Book Review: 'Border Cantos'

Apr 17, 2017

Border Cantos, an oversized volume of brilliantly painful color photographs by Richard Misrach taken at the Mexican Border of the United States, is haunting. 

The images of existing sections of walls at the border--from the US side, discarded items such as shoes, shirts, and a Pocahontas blanket, tattered flags indicating a water barrel, deserts, and deserted homes, feature the people associated with the border lands. The few portraits are people just beyond the wall, in Mexico. Physically, they are a short distance away, but are worlds away in their daily lives. After the dangerous journey across the border, the people disappear, as if insignificant in the vast and brutally desolate landscape. 

Collaborating with sound sculptor Guillermo Galindo, the book includes photos of sound instruments constructed of the detritus of border life. To see sections of a wall sculpted into a giant gong to smash into with a large heavy mallet, or a pinata made from shotgun shells attached to a spiked orb made from discarded metal scraps, or a patched-together bicycle of sorts, wheels bent from destruction by border patrol… this forces you to look deeper at the objects. How did we get here? What is a life worth? How are we complicit in the impossible lives of the border patrol and those in search of a better life?

In our time of displacement of so many poor, impoverished, terrorized, and wanderers, this volume offer no answers but magnificently gets at the ugly truth of the messy, scary, and sometimes deadly, human suffering currently being debated and dehumanized in the halls of power.   

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