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New exhibition at MAD explores the complexity of the US-Mexico border
Aline Berdichevsky, Lightvessels 2 Hand jewel, 2013. Slip cast porcelain, Limoges porcelain, sterling silver, silk, 4.8 x 4.5 x 7 cm. Photo: the artist, courtesy of Velvet da Vinci.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of Arts and Design is presenting La Frontera: Encounters Along the Border, an international exhibition of contemporary jewelry that explores the US–Mexico border as a complex landscape of human interaction. Running through September 23, the exhibition features forty-eight artists from the United States, Latin America, and Europe whose works expose the underlying currents of the border environment within geographic, ecological, political, economic, social, cultural, and ideological contexts.

Spanning 1,989 miles, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, the US–Mexico frontera is the most frequently crossed border in the world, and the border zones are among the fastest-growing regions in both countries. The frontera, porous in nature,allows for the exchange of ideas, wealth, and culture; as such, it embodies the deeply rooted interdependence between these two countries. Border citizens share a history, traditions, and livelihoods, and the United States relies on Mexican labor in a variety of industries. Yet Mexican immigration to the US is on the decline, and the prospect of an impenetrable border wall threatens to impact millions of people—transborder citizens on both sides, Mexican families already in the US, and those seeking to cross in pursuit of a better life.

In this critical moment of US history, La Frontera: Encounters Along the Border seeks to tell the stories of the people whose lives the border has touched and to build empathy for those who aspire to cross it. The sixty-two pieces on display incorporate a diversity of materials, from metal, fiber, and wood to medical equipment, pieces of green card, and the caps of water bottles, to embody personal interpretations of the border journey.

“La Frontera testifies to the power of intimate personal objects within the epic human and natural dramas that unfold daily along the US–Mexico border,” said MAD Assistant Curator Barbara Paris Gifford. “At a time when the personal has become lost in the politics, this exhibition reminds us of our shared humanity, and points to the absurdity of constructing artificial divisions.”

“We are thrilled to bring these artists and this conversation to the east coast and highlight a different narrative of the border—some of it told from the Mexican point of view,” added Exhibition Co-Curator Lorena Lazard.

Exhibition Curator Mike Holmes said, “After the exhibition’s first iteration that traveled to four venues in Mexico and the US in 2013-14, we are thrilled to bring La Frontera to MAD – updated for the current cultural moment and on view at an institution that champions historical and contemporary craft and makers.”

Selected Exhibition Highlights:

• No-Man’s Land, a brooch by Judy McCaig, incorporates steel, silver, tombac, Perspex, paint, Herkimer diamond, and taramita to reference the mountainous and arid terrains and the natural dangers involved in crossing the border.

• Julia Turner’s Three Days Walking (Mourning Brooch) is based on warning maps that show the dangers of crossing the border through the desert on foot. The maps depict routes clustered with red dots, each of which represents the location of a death, overlaid with circles indicating the distance on foot from the border. The brooch makes reference to Victorian mourning jewelry, which often contains a remnant of hair from the loved one lost.

• Made with canvas and polyester thread, Raquel Bessudo’s necklace La Bestia references the perilous network of cargo trains that illegally carry immigrants seeking to cross into the US. Immigrants must ride atop the moving trains, facing physical dangers that range from amputation to death if they fall or are pushed.

• Comprising hand jewels and a necklace, Aline Berdichevsky’s Lightvessels 2 pays homage to the women of the rural Mexican town La Patrona, who wait for La Bestia every afternoon and throw water and food to the immigrants as the train passes through.

• Many migrants are fingerprinted and photographed, and these records can cause them to be deported. As such, the practice of erasing the information enclosed in the fingers is common. In calling attention to these acts of erasure, Cristina Celis’ Dactilar pendants reflect what people are willing to do to their own bodies for the sake of staying in the US.

• With her brooch Reconstructed: Framed, Demitra Thomloudis attempts to make sense of the deliberate separation between countries through the lens of jewelry, finding a poetic accord between form, color, and texture as embodied in a singular object of adornment.

• Kevin Hughes’ untitled necklace, made from detritus of jug handles, references the plastic jugs of water left by aid workers along the border, creating life-saving oases in an otherwise treacherous and defeating desert environment.

• In an ongoing project, Kristin Beeler visits the descansos, or memorials, commemorating deaths along the highway that runs between Ajo and Tucson, Arizona. At each site, she makes a rosary. Her necklace Descanso 2, highway 86, made of iron wire and nylon cord, signifies the humanity and honor of the migrants who have passed.

• Martha Vargas’ silver necklace Sueño y Realidad makes a poetic connection between immigrants and the monarch butterfly migration that begins in March. Though each travel to more hospitable destinations and face natural dangers, butterflies are free to make these journeys unhindered by walls or politics.

La Frontera was originally organized and curated by Lorena Lazard and Velvet da Vinci Gallery. It premiered at the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City in 2013. It then traveled to Velvet da Vinci, San Francisco, California; the Art Gallery at Indiana University Kokomo, Kokomo, Indiana; and the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, Houston, Texas.

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