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Art exhibition features both sides of border

Courtesy Stefan Falke Photography
Photographer Stefan Falke in front of images from his project LA FRONTERA: Artists along the US Mexican Border Photo by Neil Beckerman

In today’s political climate, there is a lot of conflict regarding the United States and Mexico border. This issue prompts local, national and international artists to band together for an exhibit to bring attention to the state of the border from both sides of the border.

“Arte de la Frontera” is a free art show hosted by Studio ONE A Space for Art and Activism in collaboration with the Ambos Nogales Border Art Project, or ANBAP. Composed of work from over 20 artists, the exhibit will feature pieces from artists of Nogales, Sonora, Nogales, Ariz. and Tucson.

Ricardo Santos Hernández is the main artist who organized ANBAP and the exhibit. A native of Nogales, Ariz., and current Chicago resident, Hernández began the project in 2015 during the political campaign.

“There was a lot of talk during the time of the campaign about the border being a horrific, criminal place and I didn’t think that was right,” Hernández said. “I did not like what I was listening to and I wanted to create something to show that these images being painted were false.”

RELATED: A look at the life of a UA student living near the U.S.-Mexico border

Growing up on both sides of the border, Hernández still visits on a regular basis. His group, Ambos Nogales, or “both Nogales,” named to recognize the border city, which has been divided by the wall. 

According to him, families and their cultures have been separated by this barrier, and his goal for the project is to bridge the gap between the two cities. 

“I want to show how the political barrier has no influence using a humanitarian approach,” Hernández said. “The border is about community and culture. It doesn’t divide people, it unites.” 

ANBAP held its first exhibition at the Hilltop Art Gallery in Nogales, Ariz., in 2016. It was a huge success and the project has gained momentum since, according to Hernández.

“The Ambos Nogales Border Art Project is expanding awareness of what is really going on at the border,” Hernández said. “We are getting many invitations to show elsewhere because of the unique art that comes out of the blend of culture which exists at the border.” 

Paco Velez is an UA alumnus and the owner of Studio ONE, a local meeting place for local organizations, open art classes and pop-up exhibitions.  He started Studio ONE a decade ago as a positive, community-based center in support of grassroots movements and local artists. 

“I know what it’s like to be a young artist, how hard it is to get into an exhibit,” Velez said. “I wanted to be able to provide opportunities for beginning artists to show a whole body of artwork. I had that opportunity because I had a lot of support, so I started Studio ONE to help the community do the same.”

Velez is also a member of the ANBAP. Hernández used to be his junior high art teacher and asked Velez to join the group.

“My art is political, so he wanted to include me in his Ambos Nogales project,” Velez said. “When professor Hernández taught me, he pushed me to create art and to show in exhibits even though I was shy and timid.”

RELATED: University of Arizona art professor recognized in ‘New York Times’

Artists in “Arte de la Frontera” are primarily locally based from both sides of the border; however, there are others from across the globe. 

Stefan Falke, a participating artist who grew up in Germany, started a project called “LA FRONTERA: Artists along the U.S.- Mexican Border” in which he photographed over 200 artists living and working on both sides of the wall. 

“I wanted to show a different, positive image of the border, one of lively culture and opportunities that most border and binational regions have in common,” Falke said in an email.

Like Hernández, Falke was inspired to begin his work in 2008 when there was negative news centering around the border.

“I grew up with a brutal border dividing East and West Germany,” Falke said. “I had the idea to see how artists live and work in that environment and I discovered a very vibrant culture on both sides of the ‘fence.’”

Falke is based in New York City and is not a member of ANBAP but has collaborated with the group in the past. Falke became involved with “Arte de la Frontera” through Raechal Running, one of the artists from his own project.

“I usually don’t show often in group shows, but I can’t say no to Raechel,” Falke said in an email. “If she invites me, it is usually for a good reason.”

The “Arte de la Frontera” opening reception, including live music and spoken word presentations, will be held on Friday, Nov. 8, from 6-11 p.m. The exhibit will be showing at Studio ONE until Dec. 7.

“This exhibit is something that is needed in our community. What’s going on with the country really affects our daily lives,” Velez said. “It’s important to address and to see how the artists are interpreting and documenting what’s really happening now and what will be history later.”

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