Douglas and Agua Prieta want to change the rhetoric around border towns, and they hope to do so through the arts.
This weekend, the two sister cities will be center stage for the largest binational art installation ever exhibited on the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as their first cross-border art walk.
The indigenous artist collective Postcommodity will present Repellent Fence, a temporary two-mile long sculpture of more than two dozen tethered yellow balloons floating 50 feet above the desert landscape and crossing the border. The 10-feet-in-diameter balloons are enlarged replicas of a bird repellent that the artists say coincidentally uses indigenous medicine colors and iconography.
The Southwest artists selected the Douglas and Agua Prieta region in part because both cities have mutual goals seeking to improve binational communications and collaboration, said Kade Twist, one of three artists. The other two artists in the collaborative include Raven Chacon and Cristóbal Martínez.
“There was a meaningful opportunity for co-intentionality, and to position Repellent Fence as a living metaphor,” Twist wrote in an email, “which exemplifies a living ceremony of binational cooperation and discourse.”
The installation serves several purposes, the artists said on their website, including reaffirming the indigeneity of the region and giving a voice to the land and its people.
But at its core, they have said, it’s meant to build binational bridges among American Indian, Mexican and Latin American immigrant communities in a region that is divided by what they call a militarized artificial border.
Bringing Douglas and Agua Prieta together was also the goal of Jenea Sánchez and her husband Robert Uribe, who this summer founded the ArtWalk on G.
The Douglas native and artist recently returned to her hometown to teach and realized there were not many opportunities for young people to experience art.
The couple, who own a coffee shop in downtown Douglas, started talking about an art fair that soon evolved into the first ArtWalk in May. By the second event, they had attracted several artists from Agua Prieta, Sánchez said, and this weekend it will be truly binational, with exhibits, music and talks scheduled on both sides of the border.
City governments from Douglas and Agua Prieta, businesses and non-profits have all been very supportive of the growing initiative, she said. This year a church is helping with shuttle services to and from the border.
The event will also symbolizes a new push by Agua Prieta’s government to bring the focus back to culture and the arts, said Laura Ríos, director of the civic and cultural development department.
“We have a lot of talent in Agua Prieta, and we want to show it,” she said. “We want to change the perspective (of the region) and give Agua Prieta a new focus,” and most importantly provide alternatives to the youth.
The Arizona Commission on the Arts will also launch AZ ArtWorker in Douglas, a new artist-to-artist professional development program with artist talks and workshops.
“If we are able to create events that people are interested in and coming to Douglas, that will have a positive effect on our entire community, economically, socially, even politically.” Sánchez said. “We can change the rhetoric surrounding border communities into a more positive dialogue.”