In the timely exhibition “Toward Reconciliation, Away,” Arizona State University’s Northlight Gallery in the School of Art features the contemporary photographs of Wendy Babcox, Tom Kiefer and Terri Warpinski, who capture the borderlands of conflict where past disputes have been reconciled or where attempts to reconcile have been futile and conflict continues. Historical photographs from the world-class Solari Foundation Collection housed at Northlight Gallery provide context for the continuing dialogue.
Throughout recorded history, the borders of nations have been areas of change shaped by social, economic and cultural pressures as well as violent conflict. Seemingly static delineations on a map are in reality areas of continuous flux. Even when land rights are not in dispute, borderlands are spaces where cultures meet and mix, influencing people on both sides, and where fortunes can be made and inequities starkly expressed.
Warpinski’s project “Surface Tension” juxtaposes two geographies half a world apart, the U.S-Mexico borderland and the Palestinian territories, in parallel with present-day Berlin. Warpinski writes, “Through these photographs I probe varying aspects of power and conflict and the consequences incurred when national desires for security dominate other social or environmental concerns.” Her images of Berlin depict the space of reconciliation. In places, sections of the wall have been left standing as markers, and documentation at these sites gives historical context to its role post-World War II.
Kiefer made his photographs in his home studio in Ajo, Arizona, less than 50 miles from the border with Mexico. In 2003 he took a job as a janitor for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Processing Facility in Why, Arizona. While sifting through garbage bags looking for nonperishable food items he had been given permission to donate to a local food shelter, Kiefer discovered the plethora of items confiscated from undocumented migrants when they were taken into custody. He started collecting and eventually photographing the items deemed hazardous or non-essential by border agents, things like water bottles, phone cards, rosaries, tools, toothbrushes, wallets, blankets, backpacks, small religious icons and children’s toys. His images act as artifacts of the migrants’ journey and link the viewer to their lives.
Babcox’s images of the ancient olive trees of the Gethsemane Garden link current-day Jerusalem, one of the most conflicted cities in the world, to its past. Considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — Jerusalem is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority as its capital. Carbon dating of the olive trees has shown that the oldest trees date from as early as 1092. Babcox printed the suite of 23 tree portraits in the historical process of photogravure. Selecting each tree from its background, she emphasizes their individual character and beauty with a visual eloquence that serves to excise it from the continuing conflict.
Historical stereographic cards and albumen travel photography from the Solari Foundation Collection depict some of the very same trees around the turn of the 20th century as well as other culturally significant sites in and near Jerusalem.
“Toward Reconciliation, Away” engages the viewer in a timely discussion of global issues, some of which originate close to home for Arizonans. Kiefer’s photographs do not employ the emotionally distraught faces of migrant children separated from their parents; rather his colorful arrangements of their personal belongings might give a viewer time to thoughtfully consider the implementation of U.S. immigration law when she recognizes that the toy depicted in Kiefer’s photograph is beloved by her child too.
“Toward Reconciliation, Away” opens on Sept. 21 at Northlight Gallery at Grant Street Studios, 605 E. Grant St., Phoenix, with a reception and gallery talk by Kiefer at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.). Warpinski and Babcox will give talks on Oct. 5 and 19, respectively, and the show runs through Oct. 19.
For additional information, contact Liz Allen, firstname.lastname@example.org.