ERASING THE BORDER IS POSSIBLE “MANY PEOPLE ARE AFRAID OF HOW POWERFUL IMAGINATION CAN BE”.
BY FRANCESCA DUBROCK
Ana Teresa Fernández / Erasing the Border, 2013. Oil on canvas. Photos courtesy of Ana Teresa Fernández.
Ana Teresa Fernández is a Mexican-born, San Francisco-based artist, whose work spans a range of media, from oil painting and sculpture to performance and video, and also community-based projects and public art. Her work often critiques cultural assumptions and stereotypes and illuminates the psychological and physical barriers that define gender, race, and class in our society.
You were born in Tampico, Mexico, and moved to San Diego as a child. Can you tell us a little about your education and how your experience in both countries shaped your path as an artist? I lived in Tampico until I was 11 years old. Tampico is a city on the Gulf of Mexico’s coast. You could say that it is a bit surreal…it is surrounded by water; lakes, lagoons with crocodiles (in the middle of the city), rivers, and the sea. It has abundant vegetation. When you see a city whose edges are delineated by water, you realize that nature does not understand barriers or borders. Man is the one who creates separations. I noticed this even more clearly when we moved to the United States, to San Diego, and I had my first experience of living with a fence dividing us from our neighbors in another country.
On the American side, the yards were very well trimmed, the houses very similar in style, and the city was ordered in a way that I had never seen before. On the Mexican side, every block had different styles of houses, in every color of the rainbow. You could say that it was an organized chaos. Through my years in Mexico, I learned about ingenuity, and how to create something with what you have at hand. In the United States, I realized that my voice as a woman is valuable and carries an important weight.
Your work responds to social issues. Tell us a little about the moments (or a moment) that awakened your social awareness. What role do art and artists have in dealing with these issues? My parents have always had a lot of heart and social awareness. They were the ones who pushed us to see the world in a deeper way; they taught us that all our actions affect our society and that we have to put effort and heart to everything we do, create, and touch.
My mom has been working with immigrants for more than 15 years and documenting the border between Mexico and the United States. She helps separated families to connect in Friendship Park, a public space between San Diego and Tijuana. Before 2009, families on both sides could hug each other through the fence. Now it is impossible; they can only reach each other with the tips of their fingers. Seeing her images of men and women affected by this fence prompted me to perform artistic actions in this place.
Art has the power to touch a nerve, to raise consciousness. Many times the news is not enough to bring people together, no matter how sad or difficult a story is. Art can erase that distance; it can create a space that brings individuals closer to those stories or situations.
What do you do when you feel discouraged? Where do you find inspiration? I surf a lot. In the water I find myself again. Water gives me life and motivates me. I always find inspiration in water.
I really like your Erasing the Border (Borrando la frontera) project. Can you briefly describe it and tell what was the most important lesson you learned from it? What comes next for you? Erasing the Border was born in 2011. Under the Obama administration, the visits in Friendship Park were cancelled. After discovering that families’ contact was limited to what they could do through the fence with small holes, I felt overwhelmed with anger and sadness. I came up with the idea of using paint as a weapon, as my battle tool, and I decided to erase the border. I wanted to create the illusion of a huge hole in the fence, a visual pause, so that people who came often to the beach could have moments of rest from the beast separating Mexico from the United States. What I learned is that many people do not allow themselves to dream of other options, of other ways of seeing what is possible. I also realized that many people are afraid of how strong imagination can be.
What do you most want to learn or experience in Alaska? I would like to see both its natural beauty and the beauty of its culture. Watching and listening to what I get to know and whom I get to know will enrich me. Alaska will bring me a new life experience. Now I am focusing on creating work on immigration in the Mediterranean Sea, which is currently the most dangerous border on the planet. The Mediterranean has taken more than 8,000 lives in the last two years. And the numbers keep going up. People want a better life and risk everything to improve their situation.
Ana Teresa Fernández’s work will be included in the Unsettled exhibition at the Anchorage Museum, on view from April 13 through September 9, 2018.
Francesca Du Brock is a curator at the Anchorage Museum and a former painting student of Ana’s at the San Francisco Art Institute.
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