The border fence dividing the U.S. and Mexico has long been a subject of debate and controversy. Now, artist Ana Teresa Fernandez is attempting to paint a stretch of the border fence in Nogales, Sonora, so it looks like it is no longer there.
Fernandez plans to start painting on Tuesday morning. The project is an expansion of an earlier installation Fernandez did on the Tijuana border fence.
Fernandez was born in Mexico, moved to San Diego as a child, and grew up going back and forth between the two countries. She heard story after story of migrants who lost their lives trying to cross the border, and of families divided by it.
She came to resent the fence.
“For me it just became this thing where I just want to kick it, spit at it and hit it. But I realized that wasn’t really going to do much,” Fernandez said. "And so I took what was my weapon, which is paint.”
In 2011, Fernandez went to Tijuana from her home in San Francisco with a plan to paint the fence.
“I just had this epiphany, of like, you know I can bring the sky down and erase it, just using paint and painting it sky blue,” Fernandez said.
She picked a stretch of the fence on the beach on the Mexican side, climbed up a ladder, and began to paint. It wasn’t long before she heard sirens and the Mexican authorities asked her to get down.
She then explained to them her vision.
“It became this really interesting dialogue,” Fernandez said. “They gave me the OK and I proceeded, and it took about six hours.”
Fernandez carefully chose a shade of blue that would make it look like the fence disappeared into the sky and the Pacific Ocean behind it.
The illusion worked. As she was finishing up a jogger came running up excitedly.
“And this runner was all sweaty,” Fernandez remembered. “He was like, ‘I get it! I get it!’ I looked down from the ladder, and I was like,‘Excuse me sir, what do you get?’ And he was like, ‘It looks like it is gone from far away!’”
Fernandez calls the work "Borrando La Frontera" or "Erasing The Border."
Arizona artist Francisco Flores was surprised when he stumbled on the piece while visiting Tijuana.
“When I looked at the border, I saw a section of it missing, like in this weird perspective way, and then I realized it was a painting on the bars,” Fernandez said.
Flores grew up in the Playas de Tijuana neighborhood next to the border, and like Fernandez, he has negative feelings towards that fence. He said his reaction to seeing the illusion she created was bittersweet.
“When I see this painting that blurs the border, it gives me a second or a moment of freedom,” Flores said. “But then, then it is not true, so it tricks me, and it still makes me feel angry and upset and all that.”
Fernandez says her goal is to inspire people to imagine what if the fence really did come down.
“What happens if that political and physical divide disintegrates, what does that mean?” Fernandez said. “Do we have to be acknowledged as real humans, as people with personal and intimate stories?”
She’s now planning to cross back into Mexico to expand the project on Tuesday. It will be the culmination of a two-week residency Fernandez has spent in Arizona and the Arizona-Sonora border region hosted by ASU's Performance in the Borderlands.
Fernandez's new project will be some 370 miles east of her original painting, on a stretch of fence in Nogales, Sonora, across from Nogales, Arizona. This time she has asked a group of border residents to help her paint.
Lately, the Arizona border fence has become the subject of other artistic endeavors.
This past weekend an indigenous art collective called Postcommodity launched a two- mile-long sculpture of giant floating balloonsover the Arizona border town of Douglas and the Mexican town of Agua Prieta.
Postcommodity member Cristóbal Martínez says the work, "Repellent Fence," highlights the connections between the towns that transcend the fence.
“When we got here to Douglas and Agua Prieta, we found a community bisected by the border, with a desire to want to work together and remember a time before the border fence,” Martínez said.
Lisa Magana of Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies said these art installations illustrate the disconnect between political sound bytes about the border fence, and the more nuanced views of those who actually live there.
“There is a lot of symbolism when we talk about the wall and it has various meanings for different people,” Magana said. “I see the wall as a reminder of trasnational, transborder identity. The wall sort of joins the two countries, in some ways it creates its own separate unique identity.”
Artists have periodically decorated the Nogales, Sonora, side of the fence without incident.
But it’s still unclear how the authorities on either side of the fence will react when Fernandez shows up with paint and a ladder Tuesday morning, and whether she will be allowed to paint that section of the fence sky blue.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Ana Teresa Fernandez's name.
Updated 10/14/2015 at 9:15 a.m.