Arts Interview: Weaving Across Land And Time

M. Jenea Sanchez' “Border Tapestry” Visits Sanitary Tortilla Factory

Maggie Grimason
5 min read
Weaving Across Land and Time
Artist M. Jenea Sanchez weaving her “Border Tapestry” through the border (Rosa Sanchez)
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Artist M. Jenea Sanchez hails from both sides of the US-Mexico border, calling both Douglas, Ariz. And Agua Prieta, Sonora, home. Her work is a persistent inquiry into identity and fluidity. Her work, “Border Tapestry,” is on display at Sanitary Tortilla Factory (401 Second Street SW) alongside works by Postcommodity, Eric Paul-Riege and Tara Evonne Trudell in Interior Landscapes, until Feb. 23.

Alibi: Can you describe your personal experience of the US-Mexico border?

Sanchez: My personal experience began as a child, growing up in Arizona and having family in Mexico. We took many trips into Mexico to large cities and smaller pueblitos that would ultimately influence my worldview and my personal identity. During my middle school years we moved to Agua Prieta for a few years which meant we crossed several times a day into Douglas. We attended school in Douglas and also [for] our extra curricular activities, except for dance. … The weekends were spent hanging out in Agua Prieta, at the plazas rollerblading, going to baseball games and sitting outside listening and dancing to Selena with our neighbors. … If I had to describe this region with one word, I would say, generous. In so many cases, binational communities are not held in the highest regard, and no matter what, the people remain humble and generous.

How does this speak to your art practice?

Growing up, my interaction with the border was ubiquitous. Life existed equally on both sides. I do not remember feeling like the fence or politics was dividing our community. The border felt like a long stoplight, as we were moving from one place to another in one community. It’s a really beautiful thing to have the privilege to go between two amazing countries in a matter of minutes. … When I attended college in Phoenix and began getting involved in activist groups … I quickly learned that there was a polarizing idea surrounding the border. That the border was a dangerous place with high crime and drug-infested streets. My work became about telling my story of the border, what I thought of as the truth, in order to push back against the stark generalization of a place I called home. As an artist, my goal is for the work to hold this community in the highest regard. My work does not always paint an over-idealized picture of the border but intends to celebrate the overlooked, overworked and unrealized aspects of the borderlands. I have learned through living on the border that nothing is permanent. I have lived a border life with no fence, a chainlink fence, a 10ft iron fence, and now an 18ft iron fence. The new iteration of a wall is more than a good reason to keep speaking and creating our truths through art with hopes to instill memories and local values into the subconsciousness of inhabitants and visitors of the border.

How was “Border Tapestry” conceived?

[It] was conceived by borrowing fabrics that belonged to my mother and grandmother and weaving them through the border fence. The idea was to make visual the interdependence of the generational fabrics tied together to remain united, along with the existence of both countries to hold a tapestry intact. For that moment the fence was rendered invisible and served merely as a frame for the tapestry. On a personal level, I intended to represent how my family has created and maintained a woven lifestyle between the US and Mexico. There are not only strong economic ties between the two countries, but familial and cultural ties that keep the heart of the borderlands beating. Without close relationships bonded by love, respect and admiration, everything else would fall apart.

How is it created or installed?

“Border Tapestry” was installed in 2009. The project brought my mother, cousin and I out to the fence to perform this action. My mother and I wove the fabrics onto the fence. After the installation of the tapestry, we reflected [on] my mother’s memories of my Nana, who passed away months before I was born. We spoke about how crossing the border back in her younger days was different. The movement among Douglas and Agua Prieta residents was more fluid, compared to the more visible border we know today. We then removed the fabrics as carefully as they were installed. Our audience consisted only of a border patrol agent watching from afar. When we left the site, so did he.

What is your highest aspiration for the work?

My highest aspiration for viewers of this work would be to reflect on their own family stories and how they intertwine with people close and far, … that through a piece like “Border Tapestry,” one could dissolve the physical barrier and remember that we are all made up of the same human "fabric," as idealistic as that sounds.

What has surfaced or what have you discovered in the process of making art in this terrain?

Border fluidity is all about relationships. … Like having the best of reasons to cross the border, whether it be to visit family, eat at the best taco stands or economic trade. Human interest is key. When the desire is there, boundaries are minimized. When common goals are shared, anything is possible.

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