Yesterday, we took the project to Nogales, AZ. The people of Nogales, Sonora were in the midst of their Independence Day celebrations as we set up the fourth and final panel on the U.S. side of the border. There was not as much foot traffic as there has been at the other locales and most passers-by seemed to be on a schedule that did not allow for painting. Nonetheless, we did encounter several families with children that stopped to participate. It was a nice change of pace to the usual hectic coordination of hands with brushes and brushes with paint; the slower flow of participation allowed more space for the parents to ask me about the project and more time to for me to respond. Generally, people seemed most excited about their children having an opportunity to paint, one mother commented that artistic expression was “what children need”.
It felt difficult for me to engage people on the political aspects of the piece, I did not elaborate after explaining what the numbers signified and why I wanted to take on this issue. It felt like an especially sensitive issue to broach in that environment; as we crossed over to Mexico earlier that day we walked passed the Wackenhut bus that had just arrived full of recent deportees. We watched as the driver opened the luggage compartment and pulled out several clear plastic bags of passengers’ personal belongings, which seemed to contain only a few items each, all the individuals would have to begin the next legs of their respective journeys. This project is an experiment designed to see how an artistic experience engages someone with a political issue. Therefore, I have so far found that people are quite easily drawn into the project for its artistic elements which, at the same time, seem to act as a desirable escape from harsh realities. After I present people with the underlying meanings of the piece, I don’t push the issues any further, consciously wanting and allowing for the participants and viewers to pick up and carry the conversation. What I found yesterday at the border was a greater enthusiasm for taking part in a creative process rather than delving into the disturbing realities of immigration and detention; with such a devastatingly “real” backdrop as the border, I was honestly not surprised this was the case.
Thank you to all who took time to paint with us. The “Painting by Numbers” project will be on hiatus until January for its final event. At which point, the completed four panels will be put together for a public viewing, place and time to be determined.
Keep checking back as I will keep posting more surrounding the issue of women in detention in Arizona.