At around 11 am that Tuesday, artist Ana Teresa Fernández set an enormous ladder against the border wall separating Playas de Tijuana from San Diego’s Border Field State park, and using a generator and a spray gun, she started painting the bars a pale powdery blue. While wearing a little black cocktail dress. And black pumps.
Known for her exploration of women’s strength and sensuality in the process of performing labor, her provocative images of women bent over mopping floors, ironing shirts, or dragging long locks of wet hair along the floor, reveal the ambivalence of femininity: Sensual and edgy, willful but polite, powerful yet vulnerable, strong enough to do manual labor, yet beautiful in heels.
Fernández’s project to “erase the border” situates the sensual/laboring female body in the specific context of the U.S.-Mexico border, a site where personal, national and gender histories intersect. Born in Tampico, Mexico, Fernández learned the lessons of femininity as a young girl:
“Los hombres quieren a una dama en la mesa, y a una puta en la cama” (“Men want a lady at the table, and a whore in the bed”) is a statement I heard at fifteen, and it still lingers in my ears. For contemporary women, it is often difficult to reconcile the ubiquitous images of virgin and whore in our culture: clean vs. dirty. It is a fine line that becomes the point of demarcation for women to dance around. Through performance-based paintings, I explore territories that encompass these different types of boundaries and stereotypes: the physical, the emotional, and the psychological” (The New York Optimist).
For a woman born in Mexico, the border is a powerful symbol. Projecting a future in the north, Ana Teresa Fernández’s own journey—crossing the Tijuana-San Diego border to study and build her career— mirrors the route north taken by millions of women who have come from southern and central Mexico to work in the maquiladoras and make a better life for themselves and their families. Thus, the border is a site of utopian possibility. Yet, at the same time the border wall is an aggressive reminder of the violent subjugation of Mexico through the instruments of NAFTA and the Merida Initiative and resulting drug war.
Erasing the border, then, reminds us of the power of utopian visions, of dreams and the imagination.
I was delighted when, late in the afternoon, a jogger came running from far down the beach and told us that he thought for a moment that part of the wall had come down.
The twinkle in his eye said it all. Someday this wall will fall.
By Jill Holslin