Beyond Trump's wall: PSU art exhibit explores idea of borders
Author: Cristina Rojas, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Posted: February 6, 2019

Amid national debate over immigration and the Trump administration’s desire to build a border wall, a new art exhibit at Portland State University hopes to challenge the public to think about the idea of borders and barriers in a new light.

"Borders: Representation and Reality" opens Feb. 8 and runs through Feb. 27 at the School of Art + Design's MK Gallery.

The exhibit features paintings, photography, video and other works from six U.S. and international artists, some of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants. They explore themes such as displacement, identity, cross-cultural experiences and memory - caused by physical and psychological borders.

"I'm hoping with this exhibit that we not only raise questions, but we give certain answers about how we can relate to each other and resolve the political debate, so that people don't feel the pain of separation through borders," curator and PSU student Gabrijel Hammond Savic Ra said. "Building a wall doesn't solve anything."

Alex Sager, philosophy professor and co-organizer, says the topic is timely and he hopes the exhibit encourages dialogue about the complexity of borders. Faculty from across PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences have also taken a deep dive into this topic with the formation of a Migration Studies research group and the exhibit ties in with their ongoing work.

"I think often in the news, we have a very simplistic idea of borders," said Sager, whose research focuses on the ethics of migration. "People think of a wall and that's one type of border or barrier, but borders are very much a part of the fabric of social life. Some of them are physical, but many more are social or economic. Borders have a significant effect on our identity."

Hammond Savic Ra, a philosophy student, pitched the idea for the exhibit to his faculty mentor Angela Coventry after taking her "Philosophy of Art" class. An immigrant from Serbia and an artist himself, Hammond Savic Ra wanted to draw connections between philosophy, art and current events.

A gallery curator and arts festival producer in Serbia, he used his contacts in the art world to bring together artists whose work reflects the topic of borders.

The artists include Hector Hernandez, a mural artist originally from Mexico who also teaches in PSU's Chicano-Latino Studies program; Nica Aquino, a photographer and first-generation Filipino-American; Vojislav Radovanovic, a painter and printmaker from Serbia now living in Los Angeles; Okty Budiati from Indonesia; Palash Bhattacharjee from Bangladesh; and Hormone Sekine from Japan.

"It's important to see how different people of different nationalities are handling and dealing with the question of borders and immigration and migration," Hammond Savic Ra said. "People don't realize that for immigrants, even when the physical border is passed, there are other borders that exist."

He said that people who flee from war-torn countries often struggle with their newfound freedom and place in society, or have a difficult time communicating and opening up because of a language or cultural barrier. 

There will also be a panel discussion Feb. 13 as part of the exhibit. Artists Nica Aquino and Hector Hernandez will be joined by three PSU scholars: Chicano/Latino Studies professor Elena Aviles, Spanish professor Craig Epplin and philosophy professor Angela Coventry.

"I hope visitors will start to think about borders beyond what they hear in the news and see how different people relate to each other and how they relate to this question of separation," Hammond Savic Ra said. "My biggest hope is that it's going to bring people together and push certain changes in society."

The exhibit was made possible thanks to support from the American Philosophical Association's Berry Fund for Public Philosophy and another donor. 

Sager said the exhibit was also an opportunity for the philosophy department to collaborate with the School of Art + Design and its in-house design bureau, A+D Projects. In addition to providing the gallery space, graphic design student Lucas Powers designed vinyl signage that will be on the wall outside the gallery to complement the exhibit.

Photos: At top, "Codex of Migration" by Hector Hernandez, and at bottom, "Weeds Always Flourish" by Vojislav Radovanovic.


What: Borders: Representation and Reality

When: Feb. 8 through Feb. 27

Where: MK Gallery, Art Building, 2nd Floor, 2000 SW 5th Avenue

Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Panel: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 5 p.m; Art Building, Room 200