All Along the Watchtower 


Francisco Mata Rosas (b Mexico City) tends to focus his lens on those people and places  usually marginalized in order to give them, if not a voice, at least an opportunity to be seen. A few years ago the Museo de Arte here in Juarez mounted a show of his series Tepito (Bravo el Barrio) in which he photographed residents of that somewhat notorious Mexico City barrio with excellent professional lighting against a white backdrop in order to afford each of them a dignity and recognition which they perhaps rarely receive from others.
In the series called “La Linea” which opened last Friday night at the Museo de Arte de Ciudad Juarez, he has focused on the border. For five years he has focused his attention on the border using his camera to capture some of the people and reality of the line between Mexico and the United States through a variety of means including a drone.
The photographic images, which are presented here without informational cards, take varied forms and sizes from more or less standard size photographs to landscapes that take up a whole wall. Here, as in his other series, he focuses on those who are often ignored or shunned, including  drug addicts as well as those who are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances. Many of the photographs focus on the detritus left behind by those attempting to cross from one side to the other or on some of the absurdities inherent in a situation in which those desperate to escape difficult situations bump up against the implacable forces which attempt to deter them.
The photography is wonderful, Francisco Mata has a keen sensibility and a sharp eye for the often overlooked and the small things which can imply much more, so why did the show leave me somewhat dissatisfied even while I admired the individual pieces?
There is a scene in Alain Resnais 1959 film  Hiroshima Mon Amour, which concerns both the destruction of Hiroshima and an affair  between a Japanese architect and a French actress , in which she says something like “When I  was in Hiroshima…” and he responds “You were never in Hiroshima.” (This despite the fact the film is set in Hiroshima). This kept playing in my head as I was wandering around the exhibit because unfortunately many people who live outside the border region probably believe these images constitute the totality of the border region. Many people tend to view the place as a wild and marginalized area consisting mostly of nothingness and desperate people trying to cross over or the very poor scrambling to get by.  While that is clearly are an integral part of the border, it is only a part.  Those of us who live here know that the border is an enormously dynamic place. There is a huge amount of trade and commerce which happens daily, there are universities and arts and a rich cultural mix which creates a distinctive culture. Despite a general misconception, the border is not simply  bicultural but  is filled with people from a wide variety of cultures. In Juarez alone there are people from an enormous number of  countries as well as many different indigenous groups. The number of languages spoken is enormous even though this isn’t often realized in daily life. I’ve been thinking lately that the border is a bit like the Nile in that there is a large swath of desert spreading out from either side, while along the banks or la linea  a distinctive and rich culture has sprung up on both sides.
The excellent photographs in this exhibition show an integral and important part of that culture, but it is important to remember that it is only a small part of the much larger and much more varied world this border forms.
For those who cannot see the show in person Francisco Mata’s website (Francisco Mata.com.mx) provides an even more complete selection of photos, though of course they are better seen in person, particularly for the variety of forms and sizes they take.

The exhibition runs through October 15.-david sokolec

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