Balloons bisect the border, representing the indigenous cultures that live on both sides.
For four days last month, an art collective called Postcommodity erected a two-mile-long temporary installation of balloons that bisected the U.S.-Mexico border. Called Repellent Fence, the project included 26 tethered balloons that floated above a stretch of the border between Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Sonora. The balloons were adorned with “open-eye” symbols that mimick the symbols seen on a type of bird repellent. The collective’s use of it in the project constituted a reclamation of the image as part of the indigenous tradition. The artists of Postcommodity write on their site:
“These balloons use indigenous medicine colors and iconography—the same graphic used by indigenous peoples from South America to Canada for thousands of years. The purpose of this monument is to bi-directionally reach across the U.S./Mexico border as a suture that stitches the peoples of the Americas together—symbolically demonstrating the interconnectedness of the Western Hemisphere by recognizing the land, indigenous peoples, history, relationships, movement and communication.”
The project calls to mind the writings of an indigenous feminist author, Gloria Anzaldua, who wrote in her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza that the “U.S.-Mexican border es un berida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.” She also said, “A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary.”
Repellent Fence is clearly trafficking in similar ideas. The artists write that their intention is to facilitate conversations between “indigenous, United States, and Mexican publics and their government agencies” about the nature of the border, and how it not only separates the United States from Mexico but divides indigenous cultures and nationalities that exist on both sides of it and predate it.
And while the border itself remains a rigid fence, the balloons that float above it, interrupting its course along the desert, bob and sway in the breeze, representing a border culture that defies the authority of national boundaries and questions their legitimacy. They act as an acknowledgment as well, of the human lives that have traversed the desert to cross such a border, risking imprisonment and death.