Documenting Gender’s Signs: Site, Performance, and the US-Mexico Border in Contemporary Art

Margaret Allen Crocker

  • A color photograph of a woman in a short black dress and heals paints the border wall from black to sky blue.
  • A film still of a split screen showing the view of the open road from inside a car from the perspective of the driver with the text “Vine a México por la razón que deportaron a mi primo.”

Since the 1980s, artwork related to the US/-Mexico border region has employed site-specific and performative elements, collective production, and a distinctive set of images referred to as border semiotics. Rather than taking a purely critical approach to the symbols and interpretations of the US/-Mexico border, two women artists with cross-border identities engage and complicate these signs through their own artistic labor: Ana Teresa Fernández (b. Tamaulipas, 1980) and M. Jenea Sanchez (b. Arizona, 1985). Gender consistently influences both their performances as well as the interpretations of their works; because both artists generate phenomenological encounters and illustrate shifting subject positions to expose hegemonic readings of border imagery. This essay argues that by working to demystify the pervasive image of “woman as landscape” in art of the US/-Mexico border, these two artists implant a feminist approach into this evolving language that questions the repeated “types” of Mexican and cross-border womanhood throughout history and literature. Viewership is central to this argument and to the works in question: each artist purposefully engages a larger collective of interpreting viewers to through documentation as the ultimate collective feminist act.

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MARGARET ALLEN CROCKER holds an MA in art history from Washington University in St. Louis. Her interests include women’s (art)work, site-specificity, queer theory, and video art. She has presented on the video artist Candice Breitz, worked closely with St. Louis–based artists, and taught introductory art history courses in Western, modern, and Asian art. Currently she is an MSW candidate at the Brown School at Washington University. She studies clinical social work with the goal of providing research-based mental health support to college students both in and out of the classroom.

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