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Artists decorate US/Mexico border wall

Artist Enrique Chiu enlists volunteers to turn a symbol of division into a sign of brotherhood.

Over the past two and half years, nearly 4000 volunteers have converged on the US/Mexico border to assist artist Enrique Chiu in painting a mural. Chiu began the project on election day 2016, and once his collaborative project is complete, the ‘Mural of Brotherhood’ will span a mile of Mexico’s border frontage with the US in Tijuana. Shorter segments will be painted in other regions to connect the project to the southern edge of the border.

It’s not hard to see where the inspiration for the project came from, and the timing is telling. Election Day 2016 marked Donald Trump’s ascent to the White House backed by a promise to build another protective wall along the US/Mexico border. One that, theoretically, he would ‘make Mexico pay for’.

The suggestion was met by outcry from globalists and humanitarians, but the white nationalist segment peddling this extreme and impractical proposition won the day, and Trump has been petitioning to get the wall built ever since (we’re not economists, but if by chance you’re a fan of the wall I’d say don’t hold your breath). It’s marked a period of increasing tensions between the two nations, with the Trump administration recently raising tariffs on Mexican goods and allegations of discrimination and racism against Latino Americans rising sharply since Trump came into power.

In lieu of this turmoil, Chiu has decided to turn a symbol of partition between the US and those who wish to flee Mexico – a separation of the rich from the poor, the privileged from the desperate, the white from the brown – into something entirely other. Through metamorphosing the border into a work of art Chiu has humanised a threshold that has come to represent faceless corporations and governments.

The message of the mural is unity, and the construction of the art itself speaks to this. The wide range of styles, including written phrases and illustrative narratives, reflects the diversity of those who have worked alongside Chiu to complete the work.

Chiu was born in Mexico and has spent 14 years living in the US, both as a child and as an adult. However, he re-rooted himself in Tijuana’s vibrant art scene ten years ago. In an interview with Hyperallergic Chiu explained that ‘the murals spread messages of peace to people crossed the border by car or on foot’ and are ‘intended to be a final glimpse of hope for migrants risking danger as they cross northward.’

This project has been underway for a number of years, but Chiu isn’t the only one trying to turn the architecture of oppression on the border into something poignant. French artist JR recently unveiled a new work in progress which photographically depicts a child peering over the border fence from the Mexico side. This is in reference to Trump’s effort to rescind the DACA program which protects the children of undocumented immigrants from being deported.

In art it seems we have a rare opportunity to redefine the wall. In art everyone is equal, and if the mural endures then perhaps the message of the wall won’t only be one of division and conflict. Chiu and JR are making visible what others might not be able to see – the innate brotherhood and camaraderie that can be found in the face of hardship.