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A 70-foot wall made entirely of cheese, erected near the US–Mexico border as a critique of the current government’s immigration policies, has been destroyed — and the artist behind the work is suing Trump’s border wall contractors for allegedly dismantling it.

Cosimo Cavallaro began working on the sculptural installation, “Cheese Wall,” in March 2019. The Canadian-Italian artist leased a private property in San Diego County to create a barricade out of bricks of expired Cotija, a Mexican cheese named after a town in the state of Michoacan. Cavallaro’s often works with perishable materials to highlight the problem of waste, both in terms of material accumulation and financial extravagance.

In a complaint filed in San Diego federal court, Cavallaro claims that employees of the construction company SLSCO, hired by the Trump administration to fortify the US-Mexico border wall, “knowingly and willfully trespassed onto the site and destroyed the Cheese Wall” on or around October 2019.

Cosimo Cavallaro’s “Cheese Wall,” built of blocks of Cotija cheese, before it was destroyed. (photo by Alan Shaffer; courtesy of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP)

The suit rests on a potential violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, conversion, private nuisance, and trespass. Cavallaro also claims he was “deprived of the opportunity to communicate his artistic message through the Cheese Wall” and “to see the Cheese Wall, at its full length, stand in contrast to the border wall.”

“The loss of Cos’s work has been devastating to him,” Melinda LeMoine of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, who is representing Cavallaro, told Hyperallergic.

“For years, he worked to bring his vision of the Cheese Wall to life, only to have trespassers tear it apart and bury it in the dirt. He has never sued anyone before. But he felt that he had no choice here. He cannot recreate what is lost, but he can stand up for what is right,” she added.

Cavallaro standing at the former site of his destroyed “Cheese Wall” near the US-Mexico border. (photo by Alan Shaffer; courtesy of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP)

The artist is seeking damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.

When Trump took office, he promised to build a “big, beautiful” wall along the Southwest border to keep out what he falsely described as an influx of Mexican criminals. According to recent analyses, the (now possibly lame-duck) president has built 15 miles of new primary barrier and 350 miles of replacement or secondary barrier; another 221 miles are still under construction. That is a far cry from the 2,000-mile stretch of concrete he had committed to during his 2016 campaign.

In a 2019 interview, Cavallaro said that his installation was meant to “show and expose waste.” The sculpture was supposed to stand at 1,000 feet and was still under construction when it was torn down. By then, it stood at six feet high and contained more than 400 Cotija bricks.

“I don’t like walls,” Cavallaro said. “This is a wall that I can handle, that I’m willing to live with. This wall is perishable, it will not last.”

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

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