San Diego County Arts Writer

What we want to do is to shake both sides, and tell them, “Hey, we are neighbors, our destinies are inevitably intertwined. Tijuana can only be explained in relation to San Diego, and vice versa.”

--Guillermo Gomez-Pena

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, artists of any number of stripes and persuasions have banded together to achieve or promote their common cause.

Groupe des Vingt was founded in 1883 in Brussels to promote innovative art. Die Bruecke was formed in Dresden by socially concerned artists near the turn of the century. In 1960 in Paris, GRAV was created by artists researching the manipulation of light and movement.


Get ready for BAW/TAF, the Border Art Workshop/ Taller de Arte Fronterizo , a group of local Chicano, Mexican and American artists who are disturbed that little dialogue is going on between the cultures of Tijuana and San Diego.

For two years they have met each weekend to discuss the border and its impact on their respective cultures and incorporate their discussions into their art.

Tonight at 7, the Border Art Workshop’s “Border Realities, Part Two, 1986" opens at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park. The show will open with a performance by the performance art troupe Poyesis Genetica. The festivities will include music by New Tribe, a Chicano and Filipino rock group.

“We want to design artwork that is completely pertinent to this area, that speaks about this area and aesthetics, that speaks of the hybridization of the area,” said Guillermo Gomez-Pena, a poet, journalist and actor who appears in and directs Poyesis Genetica. Gomez-Pena, along with Poyesis co-director Sara-Jo Berman, wants to bring a voice to the region.

Poyesis Genetica will perform “Cabaret, Babylon, Aztlan"--part one of a trilogy titled “Borders, Myths and Maps"--tonight and on the closing night of the exhibit, April 11. Berman describes the style of their avant-garde work, which incorporates music, dance and slide, as “disnarrative.” By using extreme characters from both sides of the border, they hope that “Cabaret” will succeed in “demystifying” the border region.

In form and content, Poyesis Genetica blends elements of performance from both sides of the border, including Mexican Carpa theater and modernist and post-modern slide techniques. “Cabaret” is peopled by stereotypes such as a Tijuana street vendor, an American punk, a singer-announcer from a cheap Tijuana nightclub, cholos and immigration officers. In the course of its disjointed story, a blond punk American girl meets a cholo from Tijuana. Eventually the disparate pair form an alliance.

By pushing the stereotypes “until they break,” Gomez-Pena said, the group hopes to transcend misunderstandings of the border cultures, “the mutual misunderstandings and fear.”

“Cabaret” will be staged so that it ranges around the Centro gallery and blends with work by other Border Art Workshop artists. These include video and film maker Isaac Artenstein (“Ballad of an Unsung Hero”), artist and civil rights activist David Avalos, muralist Victor Ochoa and Michael Schnorr, chairman of the art department at Southwestern College in Chula Vista.


“Curiously, in the art arena, border tensions are all too often ignored,” Avalos has written. Mere binational cultural exchanges often miss the point, “and cannot substitute for critical thinking and relevant art,” Avalos noted.

By dealing explicitly in socially concerned art, the members of the workshop are creating their own aesthetic. Last February they had their first exhibit at San Francisco’s Galeria de la Raza. That exhibit was much more like six one-man shows.

“Now we’re more comfortable working together,” Avalos said. “It’s not easy to work this way in an arena where it’s conventional to take the spotlight at the expense of others.”

Schnorr, who co-directs a printmaking workshop each summer in Florence, Italy, said the show takes on the inequalities on both sides of the border. “If we jump on the Mexican government for corruption, we also jump on San Diego,” he said.


Calling himself “the only white boy in the group,” Schnorr has been slaving away until 2 a.m. nightly, preparing paintings such as his blowup of the forbidding robot-like image of a border patrolman wearing a voice-activator device and night-vision glasses.

Schnorr is concerned about the parochialism of San Diegans. “What happens when people are not out on the street, when they receive all their information from media sources?” Schnorr asked. “People here get more upset when the Chargers lose or Dan Fouts hurts his ankle than when there’s some world cataclysmic disaster.”

Ochoa’s contribution is a reprise of a portable mural shown in San Francisco. The 13- by 26-foot piece portrays a “border lottery” game with cards representing 24 different realities. El coyote, the smuggler who brings aliens across the border; el mosco, the Border Patrol helicopter, and el pollo, the slang term for an illegal, shown here as a mirror, are filtered through Ochoa’s own droll sensibility.

Avalos’ now famous “San Diego Donkey Cart,” ordered removed last month from the U.S. Courthouse plaza on Front Street, will be on exhibit. An altar, similar to those found in traditional Mexican homes, will be part of the exhibit. It will contain a television monitor showing a video produced by Artenstein. The artists have requested that visitors bring items to add to the altar.


This exhibit is not a Pollyanna-like view of the border. Too much needs changing, said Schnorr, adding: “It’s not yet time for that kind of art.”

“We’re trying to create a social dialogue,” Avalos said. “There’s something very civilizing and engaging in a dialogue. When you get to the point where you’re not in a dialogue, things can get very brutal. I don’t want to raise children in dread of a relationship doomed to blow up in everybody’s faces.”