Art and Cultural Expectations: A Response to the Emerging Tijuana Art Scene

Art and Cultural Expectations: A Response to the Emerging Tijuana Art Scene

In an article from the Huffington Post, Oct. 20, 2015, Marisel Moreno’s “Art and the Other Side of Narco Violence” describes how the film success of Sicario reflects the “public’s taste for violence and drama, especially at the border.” The film follows a team of CIA and Federal agents fighting drug cartels in Mexico and along the border. More importantly, it depicts people coming to terms with the violence, death, and destruction inherent in this fight. An important question is then raised: “How do we go beyond the narratives that continue to center on narco criminals while rendering their victims invisible? How do we listen to the stories that have been silenced and the names of the forgotten?”

This question is coupled with an analysis of the work of Alma Leiva and Adriana Corral—US Latina artists raising awareness of the toll narco violence has on individual families that suddenly become reduced to forgotten, nameless victims. Their art reframes a way of thinking about such experiences.

In a separate article from the Los Angeles Times, Carolina A. Miranda’s “Studio Visit: Acamonchi on the Nortec moment and how Tijuana’s art scene extends to San Diego,” the cultural exchange that exists along the border between Tijuana and San Diego is described, focusing on the work of Gerardo Yepiz, “the painter and graphic designer who goes by the name of Acamonchi” and is “known for layered, graffiti-inflected works that riff on skate graphics, popular culture and Mexican politics.” In San Diego, Acamonchi’s art reflects the growing sphere of influence that Tijuana artists, architects, and designers have in redefining the place of Tijuana culture in the U.S.

Miranda describes how Acamonchi’s art challenges preconceived notions of Tijuana as simply a transition point for immigrants between Mexico and the United States—a run-down town that lacks a cultural influence on the larger sociopolitical and socioeconomic makeup of American sensibilities in San Diego.

While both articles highlight the work done by Latino artists, their shared point of departure is how art is used to move beyond the stereotypes and expectations associated with Mexico, the border, illegals; the images of violence, destitution, poverty, and a “backwardness” that ultimately determines how we think about immigration today where even one’s legitimacy as a presidential candidate is dependent on affirming the “fact” that Mexico only sends over only its rapists, criminals, and drug dealers.  

Said differently, these artists raise a crucial question: that perhaps the “border problem” is not a problem of how to protect ourselves from violent “illegals,” but, rather, a problem of how American politics is dependent on the reducibility of people’s lives to what we expect of them; of what we ultimately say they are and represent. That means that it is a problem in thinking first and foremost. Then again, drug cartels are real and people suffer everyday from the realities of violence and brutality on both sides of the border. Yet until we are able to change how we think about these conditions, a wall can never protect us from the violence of our own thoughts. And maybe this is the most powerful thing to be drawn from the emerging art scene that takes seriously the question of the border in relationship to people’s way of life.   

[Image, titled “Tontofono 2011”, is by Acamonchi. More art can be viewed at]