We Took a trip along the Texas-Mexico Border :
Here is what we did and saw
Cactus followed us all long our Border trip from the desserts of the Trans Pecos down to the brush country of South Texas.
We even found cactus sitting side by side with palm trees down in the Gulf Coastal regions.
Cactus are a strong identifier of place. So we began to collect the needles and figure out how to use them in our artwork.
Here we integrate cactus needles with a handmade net. The needles emphasize the knots of the net and remind us of barded wire fences found through out the borderlands.
The cactus is such a strong symbol for Mexican-American identity. The Mexican phrase...
"Tienes un nopal en la frente" "You have a cactus on your forehead" is used to mock those who deny their Mexican culture, language, or race.
painting by Zeke Pena
Natural Dyes plays a large role in how we relate our fibers practice to the ideas and concepts of color and place on the Texas Mexico Border.
In many of our works we choose to use natural dye colors that are extracted from foods found in our Mexican American diet such as avocados, black beans, and hibiscus flowers.
to describe it simply, to extract colors you boil water in a pot and add the plant material until you see the water has turned color. Strain out the plant material and then add fabric.
Too insure lightfastness and wash fastness add a metal salt to the dye. Alum powder will brighten colors, while Iron powder to sadden colors.
The Natural dye world is vast and there is a lot of technique to learn, but we enjoy approaching color in a way that relatse to our identity and culture.
Most dye pots are made using heat, but that are a few recipes that call for a cold bath.
When dyeing with black beans no heat is needed. Simply soak a bag of black beans in water over night and use the left over water as your dye bath.
You can still use the beans for consuming per usual.
Cochineal is bug that eats the prickly pear cactus and can be used as a dye to produce brilliant reds. The Prickly pear cactus grows specifically around the border region as well as down into southern Mexico.
Cochineal was coveted by the Aztecs and was a big export during Spain's conquest of Mexico.
Hueco Tanks State Park
To prep cochineal for the dye bath you must weight your fabric and then weight 20% of cochineal to weight of fabric. Grind whole cochineal bugs into a fine powder. Add powder to a sauce pan of water. Boil water and then lower to a simmer for 30 minuets. Strain colored water from cochineal pulp. The colored water is your dye bath. Simmer tannined and mordanted fibers in cochineal dye for 30 minuets. Rinse.
Hispanic- those who identity with modern countries that were one conquered by Spain.The term is used by the US government for census data and some find the term an inauthentic identifier.
Latina- those who identity with countries that speak "romance" languages. This includes Brazil. Some find the term an generalized identifier.
Chicana - Those who politicize their Mexican-American identity. Many who use it take pride in their mestiza and working class background as well as their cultural and linguistic heritage.
Using simple materials and tools, we learned how to create knotted nets through our artist mentor and friend, Pat Hickman.
Pat had shared with us that in Hawaii the net was used as a symbol for the sky and the knots as the symbol for the stars.
We were so moved by this mythology that we began to examine how we could transform the net symbol to reflect life on the border of Texas and Mexico.
We always considered how sister border cities have so much in common. Though cities like Juarez and El Paso are separated by a river and national boundaries they share a bicultural reality and they share the sky.
Before leaving for our Border Trip we planned out an interactive installation that emphasized the use of the net as sky.
For the project, we started making net in the dried river bed of the Rio Grande in El Paso.
Here we are making the net in the Rio Grande River near Bone Water Canyon.
The Rio Grande River is a place of socially constructed tension.
The tension necessary to create the knots of a net comments on the social strain between people living on separated land.
Here we are at Boca Chica Beach State Park netting.
Once finished, the net meausred 10 ft wide by 18ft long
The project entitled El Norte came to life at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center for our exhibition Tierra Firme.
The piece celebrates the action of movement and immigration by inviting the audience to walk through the paper border wall and net sky.
The Virgin of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a symbol for faith and for Mexican identity.
She can be found everywhere along the border and Mexican communities.
The Virgin of Guadalupe was first seen on the hill top of Teceyac by Juan Diego.
To prove her miraculous identity to the church, the Virgin told Juan Diego to harvest flowers. He picked rose petals & gathered them up in his tilma. When Juan Diego opened his tilma to the Arch Bishop of the church the petals fell to the ground and on the tilma was an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
You can find front yard shines to the Virgin of Guadalupe every where in Texas. The largest of the grotto sites are near churches and show great devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
We stumbled upon a particulare devotional site while driving from Del Rio to Laredo. The beauty of these construction are both haunting and inspiring.
Fake flowers and roses are left at the site along with offerings to the Virgin for hope of a granted prayer in return.
We were struck by the materials found in the shrine. There was such an interesting relationship between the plastic water bottles that seem to be feeding the fake flowers with water.
Images of Our Lady of Guadalupe vary slightly from one another. Common features are the depiction of the halo and the green cloth around her body.
Our Lady of Guadalupe can also we communicated through the symbol of roses and the cresent moon.
Much of our work revolves around examining our identity in relationship to place and land.
We are very must inspired by the mountains and plant life sounding the borderlands. Here are nine photos of the breathtaking landscapes found from El Paso to Boca Chica Beach.
When you are near the mountains you can feel how small you are. The moutains make you feel your humanity.
Big Bend National Park
Bone Water Canyon
Boca Chica Beach
The Rio Grande River is one of few natural bodies of water in Texas and is the life source that has brought people to the border region.
Here shows the Rio Grande River bed all dried up near the intersection of the river and Highway 178 in El Paso,TX. Here the river divids New Mexico and Texas.
The dried river bed is near by residential homes and jogging sites. Trash is a usual in the river bed, but it was fun to see a bed in the river bed. Mattresses remind us of comfort and home. This bed is becoming apart of the landscape and earth.
As we continued down the river we found ourselves In Bone Water Canyon 18 miles south down a dirt road from Sanderson,TX
Origin of the name, Bone Water Canyon
The legend goes that the local Apache Tribe would hunt down their game by running the animals off the canyon. The Apache would climb down the canyon wall to proclaim their kill.
Here the river runs clean and creates rapids. Folk living near by can fish, swim, and put in boats where the river runs high.
The river divides the US and Mexico with no border walls in site.
The Pecos River flows through New Mexico and Texas and empties out in the Rio Grande where the Peco intersects The Border Highway (US-90)
The beauty of the Pecos makes the river a deserving candidate to be the subject of a romantic love song.
Lake Amistad is a reservoir on the Rio Grande that is located near Del Rio,TX
Amistad comes from the Spanish work friendship. It is a place that inspires a strong friendship with the land with its vast waters and short canyons emerging from a dry desert region.
Where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf Coast.
Boca Chica Beach is not only a Sate Park it's also a residential area.
When driving into the park, we saw cactus and brush country suddenly transform into palm trees and sand dunes while wildlife like coyotes ran through the landscape.
Playing the background, we listed to the park's AM radio station describing the Battle of Palmito Ranch, the last battle of the American Civi War.
You can get to Boca Chica by driving on Highway 4 going towards the Gulf of Mexico. When at the end of the road you can drive south down the beach towards Mexico where the Rio Grande empies into the ocean or go north toward South Padre Island.
As you exist the park, visitors must stop at a border patrol check point.