Tanya Aguiñiga: Craft & Care
On View through October 2nd, 2018
Museum of Arts and Design: 2 Columbus Circle, NYC
Walking up to Tanya Aguiñiga’s “Craft & Care” at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), visitors are confronted with questions printed on the front board of intermittent steps. Perplexing at first, the questions become more intense with every stair, escalating from “How long do you intend to stay?” to “What is the purpose of your trip?” It rapidly becomes clear that these questions are commonly asked by immigration agents. Regardless of the speed at which you walk up the stairs, the next question appears before you’ve had enough time to think about the previous one, making the climb feel like a real interview. For many immigrants legally crossing the Mexican-United States border, this overwhelming experience is a reality.
Tanya Aguiñiga’s exhibit deals with how craft can shape communities, particularly the ones along the Mexican-US border. The Mexican-US border spans a total of 1,989 miles, passing through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. It is the most frequently crossed border in the world—350 million legal passengers cross it through 25 official entry points. In 1924, the United States created the federal Border Patrol to control its boundaries. During this time, only naturally occurring dividers such as rivers existed to separate the bordering states from Mexico. Following World War II, the United States built a chain link fence in California to attempt to diminish the increase in undocumented crossings. By the 1990s, however; more fences were put up across other bordering states, thereby forcing many undocumented immigrants to reroute their passages through dangerous mountain and desert regions. In 2016, following Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, an executive order was passed to authorize the building of a border wall to replace these fences. The prototypes for these walls were recently released, revealing that they would be more than eighteen feet high and about six feet deep. Researchers have pointed out that Trump’s plan would do little to diminish drug trafficking—which occurs in tunnels up to forty feet deep—and illegal immigrant crossings, which would just be rerouted through more dangerous regions. If approved, Trump’s border wall would cost billions of dollars.
Tanya Aguiñiga, whose work is the focus of this exhibit, is an artist and activist who attempts to join communities on both sides of the border through art-making. She grew up in Tijuana, Mexico where she crossed the border every day for fourteen years to go to school in the United States. In the summer of 2016, Aguiñiga created the project AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides), an initiative to help bridge the border’s divide through art. Together with her team, Aguiñiga visits communities on both sides of the border’s most popular entry points and engages them in collaborative art-making.
Among the many projects displayed, the most powerful and largest in scale is “Border Quipu/Quipu Fronterizo” (2016-2018), in which her team stopped passengers who were waiting in the three-hour-long wait lines to legally pass at popular border crossings. She asked them to fill out a postcard asking, “What are your thoughts when you cross this border?” The answers people gave, on view at the show, brought up significant themes affecting those who cross the border—such as the danger for those who cross it illegally, family separation, discrimination once they cross the border, the daily necessity to cross for employment and the desire to study in the United States. Attached to the postcards are two colorful strings that the passengers were instructed to tie together. These strings were later tied together by Aguiñiga and her team to form beautiful and lively column-like meshes, each representing an entry point on the border, that hang throughout the exhibit. The size of each column indicates the popularity of that entry point.
The exhibit conveys powerful messages of hope and unity as it brings the conversation regarding immigration policy to viewers. The tied strings, made out of recycled dresses and bathing suit material, symbolize not only the joining of communities on two sides, but also the joining of Mexican-American identity. The act of tying these strings together to create something larger and more captivating exemplifies solidarity among the communities along the border. The exhibit also touches upon the struggles of growing up Mexican-American and how that duality affects people. Aguiñiga succeeds in giving a voice to communities on the border, while also raising awareness of the myriad issues plaguing immigration policy through her creative practice.