After driving 800 miles of the US/Mexico Border, artist Maxie Adler peacefully protested immigration laws and immigrant treatment by creating a woven tapestry, attaching it to a newly built section of the wall.
The fabric Maxie used came from scraps she found along the migrant trails. Blankets, backpacks, clothing, all left behind by humans searching for a better life.
The piece is also an environmental protest. The construction of the border wall, both what is there and what is being proposed by President Trump, will disrupt six eco-regions. It cuts across 62 species of plants and animals that are critically endangered.
It can also cause other environmental hazards such as exacerbated flooding, disrupting refuges and parks. All factors that will negatively impact wildlife and residents living near the border. Another aspect Maxie Adler is passionate about.
I was lucky enough to speak to Maxie Adler about her border wall protest while getting more insight into some of the laws and treatment of immigrants along our border walls.
What gave you the idea to create this tapestry on the border wall?
Over the past year, I’ve participated in water drops with the Tucson Samaritans, a group that provides humanitarian aid in Arizona’s deserts. The Samaritans take food and water into the desert along migrant trails in hopes of saving even a single life. More than 8,000 people have died in the desert on the journey north as a direct result of the United State’s border policies and the number of people never found are likely 2-3 times that. This crisis of death has been happening in our backyard for decades.
While out on water drops, I stumble across clothing, backpacks, stuffed-animals, blankets, water bottles, and other items discarded during the journey.
I’ll never forget my first water drop. We saw a torn sleeping bag under a thorny mesquite tree, then a shredded plaid blanket nearby draped over some branches. I could feel the presence of human life. I had a thousand unanswerable questions – Is this person safe? Are they near, in need of water and food? Or did these items belong to one of the bodies found that remains unidentified? Is there a family somewhere still waiting for a phone call from this person, robbed of peace and a proper goodbye?
I felt like I was encroaching on someone’s home, or even the scene of a murder. These items held stories of dreams, hope, violence and trauma. I didn’t want to touch them – I wanted to leave them completely as they were. I thought to myself, “Why isn’t this injustice being documented?”
The remote location of this crisis ensures that the majority of these stories remain untold. That’s why I, and many other artists and humanitarian aid workers, started to collect these objects. I started to weave with them and brought this practice to the border wall itself.
I brought my back-strap loom, a traditional and portable form of weaving and wove while attached to the cold barrier awkwardly protruding from the desert. I wove as a tribute to the lives that have been taken by our border policies. I wove as an act of resistance against the arbitrary division of this border and in recognition of our woven land and culture.
We should be weaving communities together, not tearing them apart.
How long did it take you to complete the artwork?
I collected the fabric used in this weaving during many water-drops, but the weaving itself was done over a period of a few days on the New Mexico border.
When people look at this tapestry, made out of items left on the migrant trail, what do you want them to walk away thinking and feeling?
I want others to be aware of the reality of our borderlands – that the United State’s border policies have turned our most beautiful deserts into a graveyard. I want people to know that the borderlands are not the location of a national security emergency, but rather the location of a crisis of death and disappearance.
The real emergency is the destruction of pristine wilderness, the imperiling of endangered species, the United State’s inaccessible asylum laws, and the loss of thousands of people– people that are fleeing from crisis in their home countries that is often caused by United States imperialism. These things cannot be resolved with a border wall, they are only exacerbated.
Our borderlands are home to vast, beautiful, biodiverse ecosystems and communities. They are not a war zone.
Do you have plans to do this again?
Yes, I am currently working on plans for a similar, larger project in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I encourage you to read more about this beautiful stretch of federally protected public lands and how it’s being destroyed as we speak to make way for Trump’s border wall.
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some weeks back, I drove an 800 mile stretch of the US/Mexico border, visiting this newly-built section of wall outside of El Paso, and the sweet muddy waters of the Rio Grande River, also designated as the border. I wove attached to this senseless, cold wall, using collected scraps from clothing, backpacks, and blankets left behind on migrant trails in the desert. I also wove on the bank of the Rio Grande- the fluid water that knows no border. Prevention Through Deterrence is an inhumane US policy created in 1994 explicitly meant to push migrants into the most deadly parts of the desert… basically the government hoped that enough people dying in the desert would deter migrants from trying to cross. And now? thousands of human remains found in the desert, and counting… & In addition- Dr. Scott Waren is facing 20 years in jail for providing aid to migrants- the very ones the government pushed into this deadly situation. Helping people in need is now a criminal offense?? (Please check out @nomoredeaths for more information on the trial and the verdict announcement tomorrow) This arbitrary division is hatred and destruction and death- to families, to the earth, to wildness. This is a tribute to everyone whose life has been stolen by this governmental disaster. To the six children that have died in Border Patrol custody. To those suffering from state violence, to every single migrant that has walked through these deserts we call home. This is for everyone fighting to stop this violence and for justice. For those providing humanitarian aid. Thank you. I’m out of words to say. I’m enraged. We should all be.
What has been the response by the community and anyone else to your artwork on the wall?
The contrast of soft fabric and steel, the childlike colors used and the harshness of metal is jarring. People have been shocked to learn that this was woven on a new stretch of border wall. Many people don’t realize that the wall is already under construction. It’s already ripping our desert ecosystems in two.
To anyone who is wanting to get involved in activism of any kind where do you recommend they start? I feel like at times many people may not try because they’re unsure of where to start.
Pick a cause, show up, and be ready to listen. Then keep showing up. Keep listening. I recommend starting in your local community and with organizations and groups already in the trenches. Start by connecting with them, attending meetings, asking questions, and learning about the history of the fight. It’s important to talk with those already in the fight about what is actually beneficial, what it is that they need, and how your own heart and skills can help.
Then do it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thought I’d share a little blurb about the history of our border policies, feel free to take it or leave it.
In 1994, Border Patrol created the “Prevention Through Deterrence” policy. This policy was created explicitly to push migrants into the most deadly parts of the desert, in hopes that enough fatalities would deter migrants from trying to cross. The Prevention Through Deterrence strategy failed to take into account that the people coming here are quite literally fleeing for their lives. Nobody wants to risk their lives and walk 100 miles across the searing hot, deadly desert.
Migrants dying while trying to cross the border was a foreseen and even desirable outcome of the Prevention Through Deterrence strategy. The entire strategy functioned on death, in hopes that enough migrants dying would stop more from trying to cross. Subjecting thousands of immigrants to death in an attempt to deter immigration, as our border policies have done, is immoral and inhumane. And now, after decades of this immoral policy being enforced, we continue to see an increase of death in the desert.
Maxie’s insight proves, yet again, this isn’t a crisis we can simply turn our backs on. Human lives are being lost. Our wildlife is being endangered. There are numerous groups to get involved with. Write to your local representatives, urging them to support humane laws and policies. Take steps like Maxie Adler and use your artistic talent to create pieces related to causes like this.
It’s time to act.
Cover image courtesy of Maxie Adler
Also published on Medium.