This is 20 minutes north of the US/Mexico border, an area that is both beautiful and lethal. In mid-April, it was 101 degrees while our Education & Exhibition Manager Whitney Valentine and our Marketing Manager Scott Meivogel made the trip down to Ajo, Arizona to document an artist, Tom Kiefer, and his work. Tom’s powerful exhibit, El Sueno Americano will open at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts on October 26.

Witnessing the landscape, people and the overall vibe is an essential part of bringing Tom’s exhibit to life. Miles and miles of glorious desolation, complete quiet and possible danger was around every corner. Whitney and Scott applaud the people of this region for calling it home and living alongside the circling vultures on a daily basis. Most of the time the sound of the breeze was the singular source of any noise.

Small roadside towns occasionally dotted the route to the border, made up of one or two general stores and maybe a gas station. Tiny neighborhoods of one-room homes are tucked into the landscape down long dirt roads.

A roadside sign advertising “Rosalia’s Rocks” drew attention to passersby looking for a souvenir for their kids. A sign, “Ring bell for service”, notified the tiny and weathered Senora Whitney and Scott was there, hoping to explore her shack filled with treasures. Bingo. What was she doing in her little house, in the middle of nowhere, prior to their visit? Staying cool no doubt. But what else kept her busy?
However, the overall theme of this visit was to document and call attention to the dangerous trip that many migrants make on their way to America. Tom Keifer has been collecting items confiscated by Border Patrol authorities for the past decade. He photographs them for exhibitions around the country. The migrant’s hopeful one-way trip must be absolutely terrifying. They deal with the extreme heat, cacti, snakes and of course the tough Border Patrol. With hundreds of miles of desert to traverse before even the slightest glimpse of safety, migrants take the biggest chance of their lives, often with their family in tow.

Breaking the US law, yes indeed, but the bravery required to attempt such a trip is overwhelming.

This trip was demanding and eye opening. It involved visiting schools and meeting with superintendents, hanging at and watching the action at border crossings, walking the wall and peeking on the other side, and trying to stay positive. Hopefully one day we can start to work together to better the lives of the people who share our borders.

Once Tom’s exhibition, El Sueño Americano, opens later this year here at the SCA, the remaining portion of the story will be told.