Artist Susan Harbage Page Documents US-Mexico Border Standoff

Susan Harbage Page, photograph from her project "Objects from the Borderlands: The U.S.­­–Mexico 'Anti–Archive.'” Photo: Susan Harbage Page.

The border between the US and Mexico might seem an unlikely place from where to draw inspiration, but artist Susan Harbage Page has been making annual pilgrimages there for eight years. In an unusual documentary art project, Harbage Page has amassed a cache of photographs of objects left behind by people who attempted to cross the border.

When Harbage Page learned that women and children were dying as they attempted to cross from Mexico to the US, she traveled to the border to see for herself.

“The objects that I find speak of a difficult journey and the risks that these individuals are exposed to when they enter the United States,” she explained in a statement. “I wanted to show these left-behind objects as reliquaries, imbued with power.”

Her project, “Objects from the Borderlands: The U.S.­­–Mexico ‘Anti–Archive,’” has documented around 800 items since 2007.

After photographing the objects in situ, Harbage Page takes them back to her studio, and shoots them again in a carefully numbered and labeled sequence. “It’s a history that isn’t put together by the state or nation, it’s looking at it from the perspective of what’s taking place on our border,” she told the Daily Tarheel.

Last year, Harbage Page began work on a book about the project thanks to a Carolina Women’s Center Scholar Grant. She enlisted the help of Stephanie Elizondo Griest, an assistant professor of creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina (UNC), who was inspired to talk with other artists whose work relates to the border between the two countries for a book of her own.

“Border walls have a history of serving as public art spaces,” Griest said, adding, “the Berlin Wall was an art gallery for a lot of its history on the West side.”

Griest said she hopes the upcoming book, as well as Harbage Page’s artworks, can publicize the border issues currently facing the US. “Right now we’re celebrating the fact that the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, but are people aware that we’re currently in the process of erecting one in our own country?” she asked (see: “300,000 Revelers Celebrate the Fall of the Berlin Wall–See the Pictures“). “Hopefully art can raise the consciousness that this is actually happening.”

Susan Harbage Page’s “Objects from the Borderlands: The U.S.­­–Mexico ‘Anti–Archive,’” was on view last month at LaStellina Arte Contemporanea in Rome.

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