Every day, we approach, cross and avoid boundaries in physical space. Sometimes, these areas are clearly defined and oftentimes, they attempt to define arbitrary areas of space. The labeling of these edges tends to express a warning or threat. The boundary exists not to inform but to confine those it warns to allowable spaces. What makes one space more permissive than another? This is the source of countless arguments over territory ownership and the threat that another person’s presence implies.
In their work, La Tapiz Fronteriza de la Virgen de Guadalupe, Gabriela Muñoz and M. Jenea Sanchez focus on the space of the US/Mexico border that is at once familiar, arbitrary and benign but also volatile and specifically delineated. While the border fence may be a political symbol to many, to Muñoz and Sanchez, it is a space that is internalized, making the physical delineation of it seem superfluous. Muñoz believes that the border never leaves you—traveling wherever you go and making it impossible to ever cross. It forces the edge of these two countries to travel with all who cross it to their new homes. If the border between these countries is more a concept of division than an actual line in space that can be mentally abandoned, how can one ever cross it? It is a continuous, ever-expanding space that captures all who are associated with it. The border where one side says no and the other says yes fools us into believing there is ever a sharp edge.The idea of passing from one to the other in the physical space implies a frustration. The border—or any border—is conceptual, yet we are made to believe it is concrete.
In their intervention, Muñoz and Sanchez approached the US/Mexico border in Douglas, AZ from both sides with neutral imagery formed from the exact material of the land the border fence exists in. Embedding their own likenesses into the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and utilizing cholla plants collected at the border, they became an amalgam of selves and places—faces, soil, cholla, and spirituality. The large image was woven into the border fence and faced both countries. The act of approaching the fence itself to enact such a task had the women crossing the invisible boundary that extends outside the fence, to the area surrounding it that feels off-limits—like a no-man’s land or intermediary zone. Like Jon Rose and his attempts to acknowledge the fences that are used to divide people, Muñoz and Sanchez challenge the system that warns us, simply by being present in the space we are supposed to fear.
Through their bold ability to enter into this space with a gesture of union, they managed to inhabit the space and reclaim it as part of the continuous land that joins the two towns: Agua Prieta and Douglas. Standing on both sides of the fence to complete the weaving, they joined the space and conceptually shattered the bars that separated them, if only momentarily. The inherent strangeness of their act lended itself towards reverence and wonder, even though what they were actually doing was an attempt at diminishing the importance and authority of the fence. After always carrying the border with them, Muñoz and Sanchez highlighted the idea that this fence, no matter how sturdy or concrete, will always be a concept that has no specific place but in our minds.