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San Diego Jewelry Exhibit Reflects Border Life Reality


By Nicola Bridges

The La Frontera exhibit at San Diego's Mingei International Museum is a thoughtful showcase of the juxtaposition of life at the U.S.-Mexico border, reflected in the artists' clever craftsmanship and using precious and mundane materials to depict the clash of border cultures.

Silver, bronze and gems are paired with plastic, litter, barbed wire, bent steel and worn, torn and fraying fabric. Despite the crudeness of the materials, they're thoughtfully crafted by leading artists from both sides of the border into exquisite adornments: necklaces, purses, bracelets, rings -- even a pair of glass shoes.

La Frontera ("the border") is part of a yearlong celebration of San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, receiving the first binational designation as World Design Capital by the esteemed World Design Organization. WDC 2024 leadership declares it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the future of the region through the power of design by showcasing the joint region as a global hub for design, arts, innovation and culture to foster lasting economic, civic and environmental impact.

Who knew that a display of jewelry and wearable art could achieve this lofty goal? They're typically not the first things that spring to mind when you ponder the politics and strife of life at the border. But it works -- exceptionally well.

During my recent visit, Mingei Creative Director Patricia Cue provided an eloquent narration conveying the museum's sensitivity to the realities of what people of both nations think of when they envision the border.


"Material as Storyteller" displays work made of found materials representing different border ideas. There's "Tarjeta de Residencia" by artist-maker Mayte Amezcua, who used copper, sterling silver and pieces of a green card to craft a metaphorically and visually stunning necklace.

"Many of these materials have a rustic finish but are elevated in how the artists have crafted the metals," Cue said, noting the tiny circular slivers of a green card encased in elaborate metal rings.

Within the "The Body and Identity" section are replica cardboard shoes by Diana Benavidez, an artist who specializes in making pinatas.

"It's a reference to the trade of goods within both sides of the border, where U.S. items make their way to Mexico to be reborn as new or different products," Cue said.


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