A border is a boundary, the seam or dividing space between two seemingly separate entities. Invisible and physical borders structure the current globalized actuality. Walls, cameras, weapons, and bodies of water serve as natural and artificial barriers, demarking and fracturing geographic terrain. While less physically present, neighborhoods and cultures are also partitioned. These exterior divisions are inherently internalized, one's very identity a kaleidoscope of varied realities, cultures, and ideologies. Currently, the borderlines of American identity have been irritated, set aflame. The signifier of America (its logo the red, white, and blue), is currently enthroned amidst border fences; lines that are meant to exclude. From a “president’s” twitter feed to the streets of America’s major cities, the battle for what is “American” is in full swing.
The varied conceptions of American identity, brand USA, have been washed ashore, in the tumultuous election of Donald J. Trump. Trump’s rhetoric establishes clear guidelines for what is American, the borders of the American mask. A drastically different image was presented during the Women’s Marches, which swept the United States of America a day after the inauguration, and the protests outside American airports, which occurred this past weekend. The blue, red and white was employed by the protesters to represent a different America, contrasting the nationalist, Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric of the current administration. These two Americas establish clear boundaries, excluding each other’s manifestations of patriotism.
The discourse generated by the current administration clearly marks these borders. This dividing rhetoric is clearly palpable in the Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. This presidential action stranded hundreds of individuals and brought millions of people to protest in the streets (and at numerous airports). It declared that “in order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles.” In seemingly stark contrast, former President Barack H. Obama recently stated that citizens organizing to have their voices heard are “exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake.” While their focus is radically different, both political figures emphasize that America’s core values are threatened. The American signifier, and its loaded history, is thus used to justify two different Americas. To unravel and bridge these differences, and demolish the existing borders, it is necessary to understand the historical roots of both mythologies.
In this blog series, I will dissect and analyze the varied mythologies of America, viewed through the lens of Boston, Massachusetts. The streets of Boston will serve as a case study and canvas on which I will contextually excavate and then artistically weave together the prevailing mythologies of American identity. The myths that are currently present in Boston’s brand are inherently different from those presented by the current administration. In the recent promotional video “Look to Boston," published by the city of Boston, the entire city was presented as a “beacon” of historical change, innovation and inclusiveness. The text displayed on screen celebrated a brave and groundbreaking “city on a hill,” while the footage visually displayed Boston’s diverse populations. The video promoted Boston as a “city of neighbors,” heavy-handedly framing Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration as a force that breaks down social and economic borders. The mythology of this diverse Boston ignores the historical barriers that fragment one of America’s first cities and the economic forces that are currently changing its cultural topography.
In the coming months, I will explore the streets of Boston and anatomize its brand: how it presents itself to the world, its corporations and citizens. Subsequently, this image will then be contrasted by the partitions: the borders that current segment the city and its different neighborhoods. I will thus be collecting visual examples of the gentrification that is currently rewriting the face of Boston, as well as protest art that sheds light on this process. By exploring this microcosm, the much broader borderlines of the American mask will slowly be revealed. At a time when borders divide this country internally and externally, it is necessary to analyze the fault lines of one’s own neighborhood. In order to begin this process proactively, I will be creating art in response to my research and the objects I collect for the People’s History Archive. The process of “weaving the streets” won’t be confined to a virtual platform or an archive of a university. The art work I create will be an active component in this process, inciting change from the streets up.
The following blog will contextualize one of my most recent pieces of protest art, "The Great Boston Wall of Gentrification." The piece was performed/installed on the 26th of January (a few days before the United States of America shut its doors to a large segment of the world’s population). The piece consisted of a simple piece of yarn (reminiscent of minimalistic yarn bombing), which was strung throughout the Mission Hill and Roxbury neighborhoods. The piece was placed at the invisible borders that divide the large universities of the area (i.e. Northeastern University, Mass/Art, Wentworth Institute of Technology, among others) from the neighboring communities they are slowly displacing. While taking place within a "liberal beacon," the recent acts of gentrification present throughout Boston are reminiscent of the larger border of the larger walls being constructed around American identity and "its soon to be greatness."