Detritus as Art

One of my clients has me thinking about how artists engage with global problems, render them visually expressive, and thereby raise awareness of them with leaders and sometimes the general public. This certainly seems to have been a function of art for a while; witness the harrowing paintings of some of the Blaue Reiter, the early German Expressionists, predicting WWI when state leaders scoffed at the idea.

Artist Valarie James scours the Arizona desert for shards, leave behinds and things forgotten by the Mexican migrants making their furtive journey to work in the U.S. From them, she makes timely art. It strikes me how much of this detritus is so much a part of our own Anglo culture: the Spanish translation of everyone’s middle school favorite, “The Diary of Anne Frank”; Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo; the Barbie and Batman backpacks; the scraps of torn denim; and Bibles. But for the grace of God, go we.

Now, why would fathers, mothers and children make this trip if not out of desperation? The routes are littered with trash, evidence that this is a steady stream of would be workers, not a small trickle. Some of course die in the desert during the trip. “For those of us who live close to the border, the humanitarian crisis is not an abstraction,” says James.

“If these clothes weren’t found and brought in, we wouldn’t know these people existed,” she says. Today I took a close look to see if I saw them: the landscape crews in my neighborhood, the painters and drywallers at a client installation, the clean up crew at my gym. Maybe a local artist should interview them and make them visible.

(Painter: Franz Mark)

About kmazz

I spend as much time as possible pursuing my interests in global culture, photography, arts and politics.
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1 Response to Detritus as Art

  1. gerryvz says:

    I have witnessed much of the same thing first-hand in railroad boxcars and in railroad yards around the western and southwestern USA during my travels by freight train.

    Any bridge in the city of Portland, if you go underneath, will also have said types of artifacts.

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