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Imaginary Lines

The Imaginary Line is an ambitious examination of the idea of borders and nations taking place at three sites. The Buffalo Arts Studio in the Tri-Main Center has an exhibition comprising four artists who imagine their concepts of state and nationhood, boundaries and home. El Museo in Allentown is hosting the Border Film Project, an exhibit consisting of photographs taken by illegals attempting to cross the US-Mexico border and by the paramilitary group the Minutemen, who attempt to prevent the illegals from crossing into the US. Hallwalls is screening films related to the topic.

“The human face was missing from the contentious issue of the policy and politics of the US-Mexico border,” says Brooke Fitzpatrick, curator of the Buffalo Arts Studio.

The Buffalo Arts Studio features the work of Paula Braswell, Shelley Niro, Leandro Soto, and Peter Dykhuis.

Braswell’s Search Me (homeland security)/(Crossing Borders) consists of oversized black-and-white images of eyes gazing at the viewer. As you make your way through the gallery you’re met with a gantlet of large, clear tubes, which also have eyes printed on them. One is bombarded with audio recordings of whisperings, giving the area an oppressive feel, as though you are being talked about in a sinister manner. The closely grouped tubing induces a feeling of being under a microscope, surveilled by a Big-Brother-type entity.

Braswell conveys the invasiveness of border crossings, where information about oneself is easily accessible to the authorities.

Shelley Niro’s Borders, Treaties, and Boundless Boundaries are three large black-and-white photos of hands outstretched in the act of making fists, grasping, or shaking hands—they remind one of the game rock-paper-scissors. The hands are negotiating their way through friendships or hostilities.

His experience as a set designer lends Leandro Soto’s work a theatricality. The Destiny of an Island is an oversized composition containing outlines of floating human bodies in the waves. A Cuban-American, Soto delves into the ideas of isolation, placelessness, and letting go of one’s identity.

Peter Dykhuis comments on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in State Dinner. The installation consists of 95 paper plates printed with various territories, states, and provinces of the US, Canada, and Mexico. There is a playfulness to the piece; the plates are painted with primary colors as though one is about to be served at a picnic. It underscores how insidious and destructive NAFTA has become to the US economy in an attempt to equalize relationships among different governing bodies.

On view at El Museo is the Border Film Project, organized by Victoria Criado, Brett Huneycutt, and Rudy Adler. Instead of attempting to photograph the Minutemen and the migrants who cross the US-Mexico border, the three decided to let each group film themselves. Migrants and Minutemen were given disposable cameras and self-addressed stamped envelopes. In exchange for their pictures, they were given gift cards.

At first glance the pictures seem fairly mundane, most taken in the expanse of the desert, where the migrants wait to cross and the Minutemen wait to catch them. Bits of intimacy poke through. There are scenes of both groups laughing, eating, being affectionate. Because an outsider did not take the photos, these simply become snapshots of what would otherwise be ordinary people and not demonized groups of people with political or economic agendas.

Hallwalls features the work of filmmakers Ursula Biemann and Fereshteh Toosi. Biemann’s films Performing the Border and Europlex cover the working conditions of women on three continents. Performing the Border takes a look at the female Mexican workers who work the US-owned factories in Ciudad Juarez and the prostitutes that inhabit this border town. Europlex examines the lives of Muslim domestic workers on their daily commute between Morocco and Spain.

Toosi’s film, Love Canal Memorial, focuses on the environmental fallout from the polluting of the Love Canal, commemorating the 30th anniversary of this manmade disaster. As part of the project Toosi will walk from Syracuse to Buffalo along the Erie Canal and record the journey.

This tripartite exhibition asks viewers to examine the issue of whether we choose to close off our country or make it more open to others—an issue pertinent to our local economy.

The Imaginary Line runs through July 9 at the Buffalo Arts Studio, 2495 Main Street, Suite 500 (833-4450/

The Border Film Project runs through July 22 at El Museo, 91 Allen Street (884-9693/

Ursula Biemann’s Europlex and Performing the Border screen July 25 and Fereshteh Toosi’s Love Canal Memorial screens August 8 at Hallwalls, 341 Delaware Avenue. (854-1694/

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