Joseph Labate and I received a grant through the University of Arizona’s Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry to create an exhibition, Border Cowboys/Border Cowgirls: Que es lo Mismo, Pero no Es (What is the same, but not) which premiered at the Amarind Museum in 2019. Photographs and paintings are still being created for this body of work.
Focused on ranchers along both sides of the U.S. Mexico Border, “Border Cowboys/Border Cowgirls: Que es lo Mismo, Pero no Es” uses oral history, visual artistry and photography as a lens through which to examine the incredible complexity and richness of life in the borderlands. Treating the border region as a singular biotic and cultural community, separated by an oft-contested geo-political divide, the “Border Cowboys” project engages ranchers along both sides of la Frontera in a series of oral histories, asking for their observations of change over time. Combining these narratives with photographic and graphic art documentation and representation creates far richer and more nuanced Cuentos de la Frontera, or, stories of border life. The exhibit asks viewers to consider their own understandings of these landscapes and the connections between nations, borders, humans, plants, animals and communities.
This unique region has changed dramatically over the past century, with cultural and political transformation evolving especially rapidly over the last twenty to thirty years. Many of these ranching families have lived in these same landscapes for as much as 120 years, instilling their communities with a particularly deep sense of time and place.
Yet the ranchers and their communities continue to adapt and survive, continually negotiating these changes, and the land is still the land. And the sheer magnitude of scale of ranching landscapes and the physicality of the border itself is difficult for most people to imagine. Just the overwhelming size and complexity of a 14,000 acre ranch with ten miles of direct border frontage, like the San Jose Ranch owned and operated by John and Jack Ladd in rural Cochise County, is all but impossible to fully understand for most urban and suburban dwellers.
But large visual artistic watercolor images created for this project by Jackson Boelts, as well as photographs by award winning photographer Joseph Labate, provide a visual means through which spatial comprehension can be enhanced for the viewer. Combining this work with oral histories and images of the ranchers themselves, conveying their own oral histories and narratives of the land through recorded images and voices ó either digitally projected or most likely on digital screens, adds yet another dimension to the work. These interpretive images also create a radically different means of both documenting and exploring the border landscape and the people who live there, encouraging a unique visual discourse for further exegesis.
Dr. Javier Duran, Director, Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, University of Arizona
Jackson Boelts, Professor Emeritus, University of Arizona
Joseph Labate, Professor Emeritus, University of Arizona