The best place to see the artwork of Alberto Morackis and Guadalupe Serrano is normally on the border wall.
It takes some effort to get to it, though, because their "Paseo de Humanidad"—a cavalcade of humanity in colored aluminum—is hammered onto the south side of the barrier that slices through Nogales.
A collaboration with Tucson artist Alfred Quiróz, the 2004 metal mural depicts a stream of flat figures in motion. Some of the travelers are headed al norte, to the north, hauling kids, bags and some Aztec iconography. Others are returning back home, al sur, bearing at least one dead body, a victim of Arizona's deadly desert. (See "Artistic Warning," May 13, 2004.)
White crosses memorializing the dead now flank the piece, and the art has become something of a pilgrimage site for Mexicans. This weekend, it gets much easier for Americans to see the art.
A portion of "Paseo de Humanidad" has been installed outdoors in the sculpture garden at Karin Newby Gallery in Tubac. And less well-known easel paintings by Serrano and the late Morackis, as well as works by four other Mexican artists, are on display at the nearby Tubac Center of the Arts. A third location, Straw House Gallery, up the road in Amado, is exhibiting photographs and mixed-media work on the border.
The multi-part exhibition is called Beyond Borders, Mas Allá de las Fronteras in Spanish. A small platoon of agencies on both sides of the line helped bring it about: the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County in Arizona and Fundación del Empresario Sonorense (FESAC), a counterpart organization in Sonora, as well as the arts center IMFOCULTA in Nogales, Sonora.
"The idea is to connect the community through the arts and cultural activities," says Susannah Castro, artistic director of the Tubac Center of the Arts. "And get rid of borders that way."
At the Saturday-afternoon openings, kids from Nogales, Sonora, will be playing music and doing folklórico dance. Artists Serrano and Eva Laura Morago of Hermosillo have promised to be on hand, and in the evening, the movie 389 Miles: "Living the Border" by Luis Carlos Davis will be screened in the Tubac Main Plaza.
Castro said the exhibition is particularly timely given the uproar over immigration since the passage of SB 1070 in April. Tubac is just 22 miles from the border with Mexico, she notes: "This area used to be more interconnected. Families used to walk across the street. Now there's that huge wall."
The exhibition is the "beginning of a long-time collaboration," she adds, promoting the idea that art has no borders.
At the Tubac Center of the Arts, it's nice to see the personal work of the genial Morackis, a well-known muralist in Nogales, Sonora. In December 2008, he died an unexpected early death, from pneumonia. He was not quite 48.
Morackis' acrylics on canvas concentrate on a single motif, in contrast to his murals, populated as they are with many images. But the paintings are just as heartfelt. "Cactus Head" is part of what's evidently a series of paintings of a lone figure burdened down by a prickly pear growing out of his skull.
The colors in this one are vivid—screaming turquoise cactus, a fiery red background—and tactilely painted in layers. The patches of white on top are so thick that they're almost 3-D, and they're riddled with little holes that reveal the colors underneath.
The man in the painting is hunkering down against a fierce wind. The cactus pads are blowing to one side, and he might well be the next to tumble, a victim of his own landscape.
"Ciudad a Cuerpo" more explicitly depicts a victim of geography. (The painting is credited to Taller Yonke, the "junk" art studio Morackis ran with Serrano.) A Christ-like figure has been caught by the cactus growing out of the man's head, and he lies naked and dead within its spines, another of the desert's dead.
"Jardín de la Vida" (Garden of Life), another Morackis/Serrano co-production, re-creates a large Nogales mural of theirs that has been destroyed. The painted border wall stretches across all three of the canvas panels that make up this triptych; the implacable barrier blocks off all but a sliver of sky.
A godlike head, reminiscent of pre-Colombian Mexican art, presides within a giant flower painted onto the wall. Human hearts sprout from green stems growing out of the ground, and out of one of those flower-like red hearts grows a sad-faced young boy. He's a peddler, one of the kids who work the streets in Nogales, and what he's selling, out of his backpack, are more human hearts.
Another of the Nogales artists, Luis Diego Amaya Taddei, uses the city's trash as his raw material. In "Plano O," a mixed-media work of acrylic paint and wood, splintery planks of raw lumber have been attached to the canvas. They thrust outward from the art, extending menacingly into the air. The whole piece feels threatening, a warning that anguish and agony are on the way.
The biblical title of "Ecce Homo," by Nogales painter Mario Verdugo, refers to the sufferings of Jesus. Verdugo has painted a giant foot in oil on canvas, and like Christ's foot, this one has been pierced. The link is not stated, but looking at this painting, it's hard not to think of the border-crossers who regularly limp back into Nogales after they've been caught by the U.S. Border Patrol. Their feet have often been torn apart in the Arizona desert, and their skin is a mess of great gaping painful holes and blisters on an operatic scale.
Eva Laura Moraga operates at some distance from the border and these tragedies. A talented printmaker who lives in Hermosillo, a couple of hours south, she shows internationally, most recently in Italy. Her copper-plate etchings feature lovely landscapes and elegant compositions of naked human bodies.
Moraga's figurative work is almost classical, with bodies bending and bathing and walking. Her bodies in motion are free and unfurled.
"Tiempos y Lugares" (Times and Places) is an amber-toned landscape of wide open spaces. A woman gazes out at the vista stretching out infinitely into the distance. A wintry tree spreads its branches across the big sky. Mountains roll along the horizon. And a river snakes through this open country, a place as different as it's possible to be from bottled-up, blockaded Nogales, Sonora.