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Ever since he started campaigning for the United States presidency in 2016, Donald Trump has been promising to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the US-Mexico border. In response to this pledge, Enrique Chiu, a Mexican artist and a former immigrant to the US, embarked on a large-scale mural project on the existing border fence to challenge Trump’s notion of a “beautiful wall.”
Since Election Day in the US in December 2016, Chiu has been working with more than 3,800 volunteers to paint uplifting messages of peace and togetherness along the Mexico-facing side of the US-owned border fence. Once completed, the “Mural of Brotherhood” will stretch for a mile in Tijuana in the West of Mexico, and will continue through shorter segments across Tecate, Mexicali, Ciudad Juarez, and Nacozari, to finally reach Reynosa in the south.
“The murals spread messages of peace to people crossing the border by car or on foot,” Chiu told Hyperallergic in an email. “They’re also intended to be a final glimpse of hope for migrants risking danger as they cross northward.”
In July 2017, he told the Mexican newspaper La Jornada that the existing fence and proposed wall “are a sign of rejection and exclusion. The Mexican people, the Hispanics and Latinos are the ones that hit that wall. A wall of incomprehension.”
Chiu speaks out of his own personal experience as an immigrant. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, he crossed the border with the US with his mother when he was eight. The two lived in Los Angeles without legal status for one year before returning to Mexico. Later in his life, Chiu returned to the US to attend California State University, Long Beach on a student visa and remained in the country for 12 years.
“When I was living [in California,] I was living the American dream,” Chiu told Hyperallergic. “I went to school, I had my business, I had my house, my gallery, my studio, three cars. I had everything there.” In 2009, he decided to return to Mexico to become part of Tijuana’s flourishing arts scene. “You can live the American dream here, too, and you can do whatever you want,” he said.
In 2017, the Trump administration tested eight wall prototypes in Otay Mesa, San Diego across from Tijuana on the other side of the border. The prototypes were not just graded by their effectiveness, but also by their aesthetics, with emphasis on the appearance of their US-facing side. All eight prototypes — four full concrete mockups, and four from mixed materials — failed a basic penetrability test. In 2018, eight improved models tested in San Diego finally passed the US military’s penetrability tests. However, an ongoing standoff between Trump and the Democrats in Congress over funding for the wall, which culminated in a government shutdown, has so far prevented the president from fulfilling his plans.
Every utopia is a social experiment, the artist suggests in this commission for the Performa performance art biennial, and we’re ultimately the guinea pigs.
“You can’t live in a house that’s built upon your back.” This is one of the more memorable phrases spoken by the scripted lovers of Tschabalala Self’s Sounding Board, what Performa describes in its promotional materials as an “experimental play.” That phrase, uttered by one romantic partner to the other, operates as guidance, warning, dictate,…
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