When the folks at the Feminist Image Group (FIG) set out to organize an exhibition themed on the United States-Mexico border, they didn't know how big a role the notorious congestion at the crossing would end up playing.
"The cleared-up border would have helped," says FIG member and founder Anna Stump, referring to the recent opening of extra lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, which has shortened wait times significantly. "The Tijuana artists could have come over here or we could have gone down."
Instead, the Fence / Barda exhibition featuring all female artists and showing at Art Produce (3139 University Ave. in North Park) through Oct. 25, ended up being a challenging logistical undertaking for FIG and Distrito Diez, the Tijuana gallery that curated the work of the south-of-the-border artists, with help from Tijuana writer and photographer Jill Holslin.
Art Produce is cut in half by a fence running through the center of the show. On one side, the San Diego artists collaborated on an installation that plays with the metaphor of birds migrating freely over the border. Much of the work is noticeably craftier, with a DIY aesthetic (partly because students were involved), and far more optimistic, contrasting with the work on the Tijuana side—a collection of higher-end work that often illustrates the harsh or cumbersome realities of border life.
Stump says the show's dramatic juxtaposition is, in part, due to the difficulty communicating and collaborating with the Tijuana artists. Long waits at the border and language and cultural barriers made it hard to work closely together. Ultimately, neither side knew what the other was doing. Stump, though, thinks the result is fascinating.
"I was interested in the fact that our side looks more whimsical and hands-on," she says. "Even the way things are hung—the way these head sculptures are facing away from the wall—is interesting to me."
Dozens of artists participated, including FIG members Grace Gray-Adams, Bhavna Mehta, Cindy Zimmerman, Nilly Gill and Lauren Carrera. Tijuana artists include Panca, Fio Zemjim, Marta Soto and Gabriela Escárcega, whose sculpture "Woman on Fire" is featured on CityBeat's cover this week.
At 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2, organizers of the show will lead a discussion at the gallery on the rewards and challenges of putting together binational exhibitions. Stump says even the show's name will likely be debated.
"In Tijuana, it's often called the wall, but we called it Fence," she says.