Art Draws from Dueling Visions of Border

Story & Photos by Alan Hickey


“Love is impossible unless you dissolve yourself into the other.
– José Hugo Sánchez


The San Diego Art Institute is hosting through January an extraordinary artistic interpretation of what it means to live in the border region created by two dueling artists “Mano a Mano.” 

Creating the exhibit pitted artists Hugo Crosthwaite and José Hugo Sánchez in “a kind of boxing match, a wrestling match.”

“He does something and I react to it. I do something and he reacts to it,” Crosthwaite said.

The piece draws from the theory of deconstruction of noted French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Sánchez explained the concept behind “Mano a Mano” (“hand to hand”) as a performance art project, where the public was invited to watch and participate in the creation of an evolving 8-by-16 foot mural over five days, Nov. 7-11, that depicted iconography from the current political climate in the U.S. and its relationship with the Mexican border.

Starting at either end of the mural, the artists drew their personal interpretations of life at the border. Then the artists switched sides, adding their imagery to the other’s piece that changes the overall direction for the original artist.

Mano a Mano 4
José Hugo Sánchez takes a turn in the creation of a mural in the exhibit “Mano a Mano,” at the San Diego Art Institute.

Anna Zeltins, the visitor experience coordinator of the art institute, noted that a time-lapse documenting the creation of the mural is being shown next to it and will be uploaded to their website later (

On the third day of this artist duel, Crosthwaite explained that President Trump and the current U.S. government were the source for the images that he was creating.

“More than the border, it’s the perception of Mexicans, in terms of the American political rhetoric that is towards Mexico right now.”

Referring to then candidate Trump’s comments, “The gross generalization that Mexicans are rapists” inspired Crosthwaite to create a scene in hell to represent Tijuana. As the mural progressed, the scene was modified to highlight the division between how the U.S. sees Tijuana and how Tijuana sees the U.S. as a result.

“It’s human nature, when somebody says something bad about you, you want to respond in kind. This mural is precisely about this conversation: Two neighbors that have no problems with each other, that depend on each other but then this rhetoric is forced. The animosity is being presented,” Crosthwaite added.

Hugo Crosthwaite says the creation of a mural reveals how two distinct sides can work together.

On a deeper level, the piece built on the “love is impossible” quote from Sánchez. The creation of the mural itself, how both artists needed to adapt and accept the input from the other and transform their vision for the mural such that the other is now a part of themselves, is an example of how to improve relations at the border.

Sánchez saw each artist’s areas as their territory on the overall map of the mural. He explained that Crosthwaite, “comes and dissolves himself, his identity, his background, his knowledge, his skills, everything and dissolves into my map and I dissolve myself into his map and then I think we are approaching what is not a confrontation but a mano a mano, a hand to hand. 

“Like extending the hand to the other, to [say] ‘Hey, let’s go. Let’s move. Let’s do this. We are a community. We are not alone. We never are alone. Let’s do it together. Let’s be a team.’”

By dissolving their egos, they are able to cross the “borders” into each other’s art work, to dissolve the “me, me, my border, my country, my language, my, my, my, my, my. You know that’s what I am trying to make an example of. That’s why we criss-cross this map,” Sánchez said.

An art teacher on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana border, Sánchez explained that “the mural is a pretext of how can we create a mural with the other.” He described the “other” as “women, blacks, Mexicans, Armenians, and anyone else who is not from the prevailing culture.”

For the past three years, his art has explored topics that arise at borders around the world, including refugees, exiles, displaced/displacement, gender, race and class. His art also probes society’s current level of acceptance of the punishment of the”‘other” and its refusal to accept the “other.”

Beyond focusing on the negative, his work also explores how people can work together to improve communication and understanding across borders. His hope is to create a conceptual open territory without borders, where everybody is accepted.  

With “Mano a Mano,” “the goal was to create the narrative, destroy the narrative, deconstruct the narrative, create the narrative to show that every day we transform ourselves,” explained Sánchez.

Crosthwaite described the evolution of the mural.

“It’s going to change throughout the week. And the idea is that it’s going to reach a redemption at the end. Where this rhetoric stops becoming the lie … and starts becoming a truth and the truth is that we are all the same. The border is a complete falsehood. We are the same people. We depend on each other. San Diego and Tijuana are sister cities. So, that is what we are trying to present with this mural.”

Complementing the “Mano a Mano” exhibit, in the upstairs portion of the art institute, is a multi-media installation from Tijuana artist Luis Alonso Sánchez. Zeltins explained that his piece was chosen because it is political in nature but also strongly focused on the border.

The installation is a commentary about the troubles people cope with at the border today.

She said the glass piece says “Sin Llorar” which is “without crying” in Spanish. 

“It’s kind of like something that has been attached to the Mexican culture, especially in politics where, ‘you can’t do anything about it,’ like ‘we have to get through whatever is going on,’” she explained.

Like “Mano a Mano,” Luis Alonso Sánchez’ piece will be on exhibit through Jan. 7, 2018.

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