A broader look at the border

By Drew Hunt

The Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan Ave., opened a new exhibition titled “La Frontera: The Cultural Impact of Mexican Migration,” which details the cultural, social and political impact of Hispanic immigration history.

Rod Slemmons, director of the MOCP, is curating the exhibition. He combined his experience working with art communities in Mexico with his familiarity with documentary photography to create an exhibition he hopes will showcase the impact of immigration on both countries’ histories.

“The general idea was to look at migration issues from as many different points of view as possible,” Slemmons said. “And also from both sides of the borders.”

Of the many subjects depicted in the exhibition, one of the main topics explored in “La Frontera” is the dynamics of the border itself. Photos depict the many individuals associated with the border, including minute men, border patrol and humanitarian groups.

According to Slemmons, “La Frontera” also focuses on the positive aspects of immigration. Transformed communities on both sides of the border are the focus of a photo essay by Andy Kropa, which looks at a small town in Iowa with a predominately Hispanic population, almost all of whom hail from a Mexican village called Allende.

Kropa, who was approached by MOCP to showcase his work, said he wanted to visit a place where immigration was creating something positive, instead of the negative spin typically portrayed by the media.

“I wanted to go some place where I thought stories weren’t being told,” Kropa said. “Because of the nature of the community, you could see through recent history that at least some things had worked out.”

Despite the political connotations surrounding the exhibit, Karen Irvine, associate curator at the MOCP, said there are no overt political messages stated in “La Frontera.”

“Our role is to bring these issues to the public’s consciousness in a different way and through different means,” Irvine said. “[We want] to explore the complexities and ask questions, not necessarily

answer them.”

Photographer Kropa said he tried to remain unbiased in capturing the immigrant residents living in Iowa, rather than play on fears, or depict immigrants as crowds of people with the intention of taking over American cities.

“Too many of these stories seem to be focused on the negative,” Kropa said.

Slemmons’ decision to showcase a more socially conscious exhibit stems from his career-long preference for capturing social issues in art.

“Most of the time, I’m interested in ideas rather than formal issues,” Slemmons said. “I gear more toward social documentation and journalism and stuff like that.”

Kropa said he also considers himself more of a photojournalist than an artist.

Irvine said she thinks students who visit the gallery will gain a better understanding of how immigration affects not only American citizens but the immigrants themselves.

“The show will hopefully help to pull out some the specifics that surround the human stories,” Irvine said. “[We want] the students to come in and look at not only the images of the border that make it really real, [but] illustrate the human suffering that comes along with traipsing across the desert.”

Slemmons hopes “La Frontera” will promote more social consciousness in the art Columbia students create, who he said tend to focus more on artistic questions than cultural ones.

“The confluence of art and society is much more prevalent now than it used to be,” Slemmons said. “I think that helps the students. If they can learn how to look from different angles, they’re in better shape.”