April 22, 2005

Finding beauty in the midst of it all

By Geneva Gamez

Recycled garage doors, combined with old pieces of wood piled one on top of the other, coupled with metal sheets and worn out tires, translates to the high percentage of homes found south of the border. Add a rusted fence to the distance between Mexico and the U.S., and it won’t be difficult to understand the grave poverty that unites the inhabitants of these homes with the divisional fence that stands prominently between “us” and “them”.

This is why Maria Teresa Fernandez’s work makes perfect sense. Deteriorating shacks, made out of anything and everything, on the verge of collapsing are brought to life by the simple gesture of a blooming flower coming through a peeping hole in the door. A lock on a slanted door recovers value to the home that may otherwise just be a forgotten space. Recycled tires become whimsical elements within forced passages leading to the entrance of these homes.

Playas-San Diego by Maria Teresa Fernandez

“Architects by Force” is Fernandez’s three-year personal project turned into a series of photographs evoking life out of the dead, and color out of the dull. It’s a series intended to show the aesthetics of the unaesthetic and more than that to admirably respect those who are architects by force yet unaccredited for their creations.

Fernandez’s photographs depict a dialogue between form and material, patterns and texture; this combined with the wild range of colors, creates a cacophonous dialect.

“These factors confirm the notion that a piece of discarded material is no longer a piece of trash,” emphasizes the artist, “the colors, the patterns, and the textures conjure up the vitality and imagination required to convert trash into a home,” she says. Not to mention the ingenuous added battle to find anything that serves as a potential shield against the forces of nature.

There isn’t a single photograph in this series that doesn’t tell a story, as behind each one stands a family who once came to Tijuana with the illusion of crossing the border in search of the much acclaimed “American Dream.” Through great anticipation and deceived by even greater rejection, many families give up on the American ideal and settle in forbidden grounds of Tijuana and surrounding areas.

“Like weeds, these homes bloom and spread across any existing territorial opening,” says Fernandez, “…Need is what makes them architects by force.”

As much beauty as can be found in the craftiness of these homes, it’s shocking to see their continuous growth and expansion, leaving no answer as to why social evolution pedals backwards when it’s inevitable to avoid consciousness towards the obvious.

This is how Fernandez was consequently led into her next series of photographs “Cerca de la Cerca”, cerca used with its double meaning in Spanish for close and fence. The title translates to “Close to the Fence” losing a bit of the abstractness and irony of the play with words that the artist uses in Spanish.

“Cerca de la Cerca” also continues to be a work in progress, as the incarcerating truth about the fence (wall that divides Mexico from the U.S.) becomes an ever-changing phenomenon. More so than ever, the fence has become an attraction, a point of reference, and sad but true, something obvious that people seem to have gotten used to.

On the southern side of the fence, you will find anything from artwork (paintings, photographs and even sculptures), to stranded shoes, clothes, and dolls –all symbolic of the human presence.

Muro de llantasiedras by Maria Teresa Fernandez

“I like to shoot things on the fence because they are reminiscent of people,” said Fernandez, adding that, “you don’t need people in the pictures to show that they are present, the items found there represent that.”

Many of Fernandez’s photographs also show the other side of the fence, peeping through a rusted whole in the fiercely designed fence you can see the tides of a somehow desirable beach. Others serve as windows that open up to the sky, as if symbolic for freedom once one is on the other side of the fence. The eye Fernandez has for capturing a moment and documenting a story is amazing, but what’s best is that she finds beauty in the midst of it all.

To contact Geneva Gamez e-mail: gamezgeneva@yahoo.com

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