Up Close with the Material Culture of U.S.-Mexico Border Barriers

Authors: Kenneth Madsen*, The Ohio State University
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: borders, bordering, border barriers, political geography, material culture, art
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Senate Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As an outgrowth of a project to map U.S.-Mexico border barriers and stretches along the border where laws have been waived by the Department of Homeland Security to expedite such construction, I took over 7,000 photographs of border barriers over a year and a half period to document barrier construction and geographic context. In Fall 2018 drew on this visual database to curate and install an art exhibit on border barriers which has since traveled to several additional locations. Through photographic displays, maps, and interactive elements this educational outreach project brought the reality of the border’s built environment to an audience thousands of miles away with little first-hand knowledge of the situation on the ground. By integrating displays of material culture, the exhibit had a visceral impact on popular understanding and informed visitors on a central political issue of the day. By discussing immigration and borders in this way, the exhibit provided information that allowed people to interact more directly with the topic, even if by proxy in an art gallery. This activity points to the importance of visual representation and the impact geographers can have if they engage in public outreach beyond the academy. While the exhibit did not necessarily facilitate widespread changes of opinions on the topic, based on response cards and personal communications it did put a personalized experience forward to advance discussion on the topic.

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