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Arts | Culture

Improvised mural questions ‘otherness’ and power in reflection on border

You can see the completed Mano a Mano mural, an improvised reflection on the border and migration by Hugo Crosthwaite and José Hugo Sánchez, at the San Diego Art Institute through January 7.

Hovering in the corner of a new, black-and-white mural, a border tower looms over grim shapes and creatures caught in struggle.

The mural is the product of a five-day performance at the San Diego Art Institute called “Mano a Mano,” a dialogue and artistic duel between Hugo Crosthwaite and José Hugo Sánchez. The border region-based artists started at each end of a white 16-foot wall on Tuesday and improvised their way to the middle, at times going to the other’s part of the wall to add elements.

“Being artists from the border, there’s no way that’s not going to come with us,” Crosthwaite explained.

The artists encouraged people to come by while they worked. Sometimes they stopped to chat, and conversations about the work brought fresh ideas for improvisation.

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Crosthwaite and Sánchez didn’t plan any of the images they would use before their paint and charcoal touched the wall.

After a short question and answer session with about a dozen people who had gathered to watch the first strokes, Crosthwaite began by painting a widened right eye, which became a face surrounded by demons in a circle of hell scene.

From the other end of the wall, Sánchez added indigenous imagery and pop culture icons like Mickey Mouse.

For Sánchez, the mural was a meditation on power structures that exclude some and privilege others.

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“What we’re thinking about is how do we resist power when power is already normalized,” Sánchez said.

He criticized fear of the ‘other’ and the closing of borders.

“This life that we are part of, it’s divided by who has access and who doesn’t have access — who has power,” Sánchez said.

By Friday, the legs of one of Crosthwaite’s humans became part of a Sánchez monster.

“The theme that’s been coming out is the notion of the other or the perceived notion of Mexicans,” Crosthwaite said.

For him, the monster imagery represented a way to grapple with negative stereotypes of Mexicans.

The two artists have different styles, and the blending of classical and abstract, crisp and raw lines adds another layer to the conversation on otherness.

Looking at their individual work, which hangs in a gallery space behind the mural, viewers can determine who painted which images on the wall.

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The separation between monsters and humans in the mural is ambiguous. A fanged creature cowers in the center of the mural, perhaps in shame or fear. Next to him, a monster has serpents coming out of one of its mouths and eats a woman with another.

Both artists emphasized the importance of the public interacting with the mural, and that each viewer would bring a different perspective to the mural’s meaning.

“The mural is inside you because anything you see comes from the repertoire in your mind,” Sánchez said.

He added that it is important to recognize that even that repertoire of experiences and perspectives is shaped by power structures.

“Where is the power?” he said. “We have to ask ourselves that question. Where am I being suppressed? Everything is in question, everything.”

The finished mural was unveiled at a party on Saturday. It will be on display through January 7 at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park.

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