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'Voices of Power' examines role of women of color in arts and social justice.
Poetry, spoken-word piece, mirror installation will be featured at 'Oasis.'
September 22, 2016

ASU's 'Project Borderlands' will present vocal performances, installation in little-known Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area

A group of artists will perform and display their work on top of a former landfill this weekend to encourage dialogue on issues such as displacement, immigration and desert water use.

Phoenix’s Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, a little-known and barely used riparian corridor, will be transformed into a pop-up art installation as part of ASU’s ongoing “Performance in the Borderlands” series.

National artist Ana Teresa Fernandez will unveil her site-specific installation, “Oasis,” on Sept. 24-25 at the habitat, Seventh Avenue and Lower Buckeye in south Phoenix. The free event is open to the public and runs from 5 to 7 p.m. each day.

An initiative of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ School of Film, Dance and Theatre, “Performance in the Borderlands” is an annual art series of plays, installations, workshops and lectures that brings together a collection of local and national artists to focus their talents on borderland issues.

This year’s theme, “Voices of Power,” examines the role of women of color in the arts and social justice. The series kicked off Sept. 13 with a panel of prominent artists discussing their work’s potential to drive social and political change. ASU Now will follow the initiative to document the ways it engages the people and the region. 

“Oasis,” which will also feature original work from local artists Raji Ganesan, Rashaad Thomas, Leah Marche, Liliana Gomez and Eunique Yazzie, hopes to continue the community dialogue.

“The Rio Salado is a place of great complexity, tragedy and hope,” said Mary Stephens, producing director for “Performance in the Borderlands.”

Rio Salado Preserve
Phoenix’s Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area was once part of a dump site. This weekend it will be transformed into a pop-up art installation as part of ASU’s ongoing “Performance in the Borderlands” series. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

 

“The river represents the potential for life in the desert, but also holds painful histories of ongoing displacements and environmental degradation. These converging histories and themes continue to play out again and again across the United States.”

Once a dried-up riverbed full of trash that was part of a dump site, the Rio Salado Habitat is now home to more than 200 species of birds and 5 miles of paved and dirt trails dotted with ponds, gardens, bridges, desert grasslands and picnic areas.

Fernandez said she purposely chose the site because of its history and location. She said it was first used by Hohokam Indians as a water resource until it was colonized. In the early 20th century, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation constructed several dams along the Salt and Verde rivers to regulate the river’s flow and created a series of lakes that would provide a reliable year-round water supply for the Valley.

At the turn of the century, demand for water had reduced the Salt River to a barren riverbed, and the area became a dumping ground and homeless camp. In 2001, Phoenix residents approved a $16 million bond issue to fund the cleanup of the riverbed and the habitat restoration. The habitat opened in November 2005, but it’s still a secret to many Phoenix residents.

“This is a place that has value and should be appreciated more, but it’s not because it’s literally on the wrong side of the tracks and has a bad reputation,” Fernandez said.

Her installation of 900 disc-shaped mirrors against a large wall is intended to showcase the 5-mile habitat as an oasis in the desert.

Navajo Nation artist Eunique Yazzie wrote an original poem titled “Time Immoral,” which touches on the history of the site, the duality of living in two worlds and living in a consumer nation.

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Performers Leah Marche (right) and Eunique Yazzie survey the Rio Salado Preserve on Sept. 22. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

 

“I see this cycle of how people keep their valuables in boxes tucked inside their garage and eventually when they decide to throw it out, it ends up in a landfill,” Yazzie said. “I hope it sparks a conversation about awareness and protection, and why we need to take a stand as a community.”

Poet Leah Marche will perform an untitled spoken-word piece about growing up in south Phoenix. She said the area has suffered from a negative stigma for years but is now experiencing gentrification. 

“We’ve had people knock on our doors asking if we wanted to sell our house,” Marche said. “They don’t understand that is the place where I grew up and lived on the same street as my grandparents. The same place where I received a great education. For me, it’s always been a valuable part of town.”

 

Top photo: Performers Leah Marche (left) and Eunique Yazzie are reflected in the "Oasis" installation in the Rio Salado Preserve in Phoenix on Sept. 22. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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'Performance in the Borderlands' enters 13th season with focus on women's rights
ASU Now will follow project's installments, plays, discussions through May
September 13, 2016

Artists say work engages community, has potential to drive social change

In the coming weeks and months, desolate sections near the U.S.-Mexico line will transform into arthouses, theaters and classrooms as Arizona State University brings together a collection of artists to focus their talents on borderland issues.

An initiative of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ School of Film, Dance and Theatre, the 13th season of “Performance in the Borderlands” got underway Tuesday with a panel of prominent artists discussing the works’ scope, impact and potential to drive social and political change.

The planned plays, installations and workshops are part of ASU’s cross-disciplinary approach to expanding access, addressing problems and taking responsibility for the well-being of the communities it serves. ASU Now will follow the initiative to document the ways it engages the region and its people.

“We think of borders not just in terms of the physical demographic of a wall in southern Arizona, but in terms of these complicated identity issues and structures,” said Mary Stephens, producing director for “Performance in the Borderlands.”

“Our approach is to think of the borderlands as a conceptual space where people are meeting, ideas are exchanged and as a methodology for life. Really good art takes your everyday perceptions and kind of twists it so that you can see it in a different way.”

As it has done since 2003, the art series will bring together local, national and international artists, ensembles and theater groups. Past invitees have been from Arizona, California, Mexico, Peru and Argentina, and their work has explored topics including immigration, social justice, race, religion, sexual orientation and women’s rights.

Memorable borderlands installations have included a play in the Desert Valley Rock Center reserve, a queer Chicana monologue on body image and politics, and a mural that momentarily erased the border in Douglas, Arizona.

"We've had so much positive response," Stephens said. She said the project aims to support the work of artists and and leaders in the communities they serve, adding "It's not only been positive, but catalytic because ASU is able to fund artists that these small communities could not normally afford and work with these communities, so they're able to produce an event with an incredible artist of great caliber."  

This year’s theme, “Voices of Power,” examines the role of women of color in the arts and social justice. “My job as curator is to give these amazing women visibility because they’re not just part of, but leading the arts movement in Arizona,” Stephens said.

Martha Gonzalez, a Grammy-winning artist, activist, scholar and the current ASU Gammage guest residency artist, is contributing to the borderlands project as a featured speaker at the introductory discussion.   

Martha Gonzalez

 

She sees the connection between art and social consciousness as inextricable. Through workshops and her Mexican folk band, Quetzal, Gonzalez has engaged communities in critical thought through music. At the same time, she has increased access to health care and educational programs for underserved populations in the Los Angeles area.

“With hypercapitalism as the way we understand it, we tend to think of art as something separate from community and something we buy and sell,” Gonzales said. “Art has always been meant to document and instigate critical thought and bring communities together.”

This year’s borderlands project will include close to 20 activities that will run through May.

The first event of the season included ASU professors Marlon Bailey and Liz Lerman along with Gonzalez. Speakers discussed the creative process, community representation and — as Gonzalez put it — developing a sense of "convivencia," or coexistence.

 

"It means to be with each other," Gonzalez said, "deliberate presence to each other, commitment to each other, dialogue through this art and music. I think that it's extremely important for us as well to instill a sense of 'convivencia' through music and our practices."

 

The rest of the season's lineup features Arizona artists Raji Ganesan, Rashaad Thomas, Leah Marche and Liliana Gomez.

Projects are expected to include an on-site installation and performance at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area in Phoenix; a DJ scholarship and music activism lecture with Lynee Denise and a bi-national arts residency with solo performance artist Yadira de la Riva, who will travel through Arizona, northern Mexico, the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Sonoran Desert.

“I feel this is our strongest year because we’ll be working with and reaching many communities, especially women,” Stephens said.  

For a list of complete listing of the 2016-2017 season, go here.

 

Top photo: Last year's "Performance in the Borderlands" included painting the U.S.-Mexico border fence to match the sky. Project leaders said it removed an oppressive visual barrier to help create optimism. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-5176