May 5, 2016

A World Separated

Each day, I grow and learn. Some days, I grow more than others. Often, what I learn is not applicable at the moment, but I add it to my palette for the future.

Recently, I had the honor of accompanying my favorite creative duo, Jane Gittings and François Robert, to a compelling art exhibition titled, “A World Separated by Borders” at The Museo De Arte De Sonora (MUSAS) in Hermosillo, Mexico. François was one of an esteemed group of artists who showed in this exhibition, including Michael Hyatt, Debbi McCullough, Petra Boehm (curator) and Alejandra Platt.

I have always struggled to articulate the reality that I see around me. My goal is not to complain, but to get people to think and act. Unfortunately, words are woefully inadequate to express and define the complex issues that I believe that we face today. There are too many variables, attributes or nuances to explain. That is where art comes into play.

“A picture paints a thousand words.” And a room full of art and people creates a dialogue that resonates far beyond the walls where the art hangs. The exhibition, “A World Separated by Borders” was no exception.

I am sure different people took away their own unique perspectives, but I would bet that each continued the conversations they started at the exhibition.

Let me back up and give some context. My wife, Lyra, and I were actually invited to accompany a humanitarian group, The Samaritans of Tucson, to caravan from Tucson, Arizona to Hermosillo, Mexico. We were the guests of Jane and François who are members of this group whose mission it is to drop water and food for people crossing the brutal 60 mile stretch of the Sonoran desert between Mexico and Tucson. Most people cannot carry enough water to make the trek, especially in the summer heat, which can reach temperatures of 120º F...and without water, people will perish.

The Samaritans’ goal is to throw a literal life line to people dying in the desert. These are people, not unlike you and me, who are at fringes of our world, separated only by the borders we erect that are both physical and figurative. The Samaritans believe that no one deserves to die alone in the desert just because they’re trying to feed their family.

The Samaritans only drop jugs of water and food it is my understanding that they call Border Control and give them GPS coordinates whenever they encounter person in distress.

Through my conversations, I also learned that not everyone agrees with The Samaritans. Other groups or individuals, who also patrol the area, may find the water jugs and knife them or shoot them so that the water drains out. This is a virtual death sentence…I think the punishment does not fit the crime in this case. One of the exhibits by Debbi McCullough happens to be a sculpture of water jugs that The Samaritans had left behind, but were “knifed”.

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In another interesting conversation, I discovered that The Samaritans often find empty black water jugs strewn about in the desert. Apparently, people paint their water jugs black to avoid being seen by the border patrol. Otherwise, the jugs light up brightly when a spotlight shines on them. It seems that bleach bottles are the jug of choice to paint black.

Even more compelling, are the personal belongings that people leave behind in the desert, upon which the artists of “A World Separated by Borders” are shedding light. Juxtaposed against one another, these artifacts allow us to see the border “crossers” as human beings and begin to understand their terrible plight.

Copyright © under universal copyright convention. † 
François, with his incredible style and empathy for others, documents the subtle humanity found in these discarded artifacts. From family photos to love letters to lipstick and toothbrushes…each chronicles a story and humanizes this tragedy. The stories are similar to our own and allow us to realize that these are people like us. Actually, they are us.

We need to have a meaningful dialogue about borders. Maybe it depends on which side you are on, but has a wall ever worked as a long-term or sustainable solution? For example, how did it turn out for the Chinese against the Mongolians with The Great Wall of China? Or for the Romans against the Scots and Picts with Hadrian’s Wall? Or the Communist East Germans and The Berlin Wall? Yet, today, in addition to the Mexican Border Wall, we still have The DMZ in Korea, The Moroccan Wall in the Western Sahara and The West Bank Barrier in Israel, etc. Please see Wikipedia’s comprehensive Wall List.

Whatever the answer is to these terrible situations, only art can illuminate such complex issues with empathy. And through empathy can we begin to break down the walls that divide us.

† All rights reserved of Francois ROBERT photographs. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise without written permission of the copyright owner. Unless noted, all other photos by Douglas Wills and Lyra Jakabhazy.

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