CALEXICO — A photo exhibit that highlights 200 artists who live and work along the Southwest border will debut tonight at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley’s Steppling Art Gallery.
The exhibit, titled “La Frontera: Artists along the U.S.-Mexican Border,” is the result of New York City-based photographer Stefan Falke’s eight years of traveling to meet and photograph the artists.
The idea for such a project was prompted in 2008 by frequent news reports of drug cartel-related violence along the Southwest border, Falke said.
Unlike other potential tourists, the grave news served to entice Falke to the region for the sole purpose of documenting the good works of people who call the border region their home.
“When I hear too much bad news, I kind of get suspicious,” Falke said. “I usually like to see if there’s something good to find.”
Falke grew up in West Germany, in a town called Paderborn, about 70 miles west of the border with the Netherlands. It was there that he came to appreciate the cultural diversity and tension that is often associated with border regions.
While media and politicians often have a habit of exploiting and exaggerating border regions’ tensions and conflicts, Falke said his “Frontera” exhibit is meant to highlight those individuals who contribute to their communities’ quality of life.
“My point is only to prove that there is amazing cultural life along the border,” Falke said. “But it is less about the individual artist than it is about making that point.”
As part of his project, Falke said he had visited just about every city and town along the Southwest border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
Most times, Falke would just show up in an area without having done much prior research about the area’s established artists. Typically, the artists who were among the first to be photographed would provide Falke with the names and locations of other prospective subjects.
The artists featured in the “Frontera” exhibit hail from Matamoros, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Ciudad Juarez, Agua Prieta, Naco, Nogales, Mexicali, Tecate, Tijuana, Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen, El Paso, Calexico and San Diego.
“I’ve had so much fun meeting all these artists,” Falke said.
Locals here may find familiar faces from both the Valley and Mexicali among the artists featured in Falke’s exhibit.
Among those faces is the gallery’s own curator and Imperial Valley College art professor Luis Guillermo Hernandez, a Mexicali native and resident who Falke intimately referred to as “truly a border-crosser kind of guy.”
Hernandez is a Mexicali native who moved to Calexico while in middle school and who returned to the area in 2012 after having lived and worked as artist in Los Angeles.
The “La Frontera: Artists along the U.S.- Mexican Border” exhibit’s opening reception takes place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight and will run through Oct. 12.