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Monday, March 27, 2023

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An art installation by SDSU assistant professor, Matthew Higgins. An art installation by SDSU assistant professor, Matthew Higgins.

Point of Entry

An exhibition explores cultural and geographic complexities of borders.
By Jill Esterbrooks

An airport isn’t your typical go-to place for visual arts lovers.

But a new exhibition at the San Diego International Airport is attracting the attention of millions of travelers from around the world. It’s also shining a spotlight on the talents of the San Diego State University faculty.

Norma Iglesias-Prieto, professor in SDSU’s Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, is the guest curator of the year-long exhibition, “Point of Entry.” She said the new exhibition not only introduces the traveling public to a wide array of artist installations, but also stimulates dialogue and greater awareness of the role the Tijuana/San Diego border plays in shaping our region’s identity.

“This is the first time in my 33 years of working on border issues that a major regional institution in San Diego has put the main emphasis on the geopolitical considerations from the other side of the border,” said Iglesias-Prieto, an arts anthropologist whose research focuses on U.S.-Mexican border culture.

Different lenses

The expansive collection of art comprising “Point of Entry” gives voice to the panoply of perspectives — from an artist with autism exploring vibrant dreamscapes to a Tijuana physician whose eye-popping x-ray images examine the contents of handbags from daily border crossers.

Part of the airport’s ongoing Arts Program at SAN, the exhibition features distinct installations displayed throughout the airport by 14 different artists and organizations, including SDSU assistant professor Matthew Higgins.

A British architect and interior designer, Higgins developed an innovative teaching tool for aspiring designers called the “space alphabet.” It uses 24 symbols consisting of lines, dashes and dots that represent walls, columns and other physical objects.

His 11-panel piece, covering an entire corridor in Terminal 2, incorporates these symbols on terracotta-colored grids to convey “the conjoined sense of order and chaos, excitement and trepidation that we experience when traveling or entering an unfamiliar space."

He said the artwork describes the journey of discovery we make at the point of entry — either to an airport, a city or a new country.

“I think it’s a playful and aesthetically pleasing way to explore spatial wayfinding,” said Higgins, who teaches interior design in SDSU’s School of Art and Design. “The viewer’s reaction to the panels in some ways echoes the airport experience of orienting yourself to a new place, finding your luggage and the way through customs.”    

Other exhibition highlights include:

  • A collection of portraits by the nonprofit The AjA Project that shares the stories from the immigrant and refugee communities of San Diego
  • Works of cut paper by Bhavna Mehta using the words remember and forget to speak about the immigrant experience
  • Photojournalist Guillermo Arias images of the border fence between the United States and Mexico
  • Sculptural reliefs by Oscar Romo depicting the path of the Tijuana River as it flows freely across the binational border
  • Globe sculptures designed by Ron Miriello and made from found items and recycled materials

Every year, the bustling airport showcases the work of the region’s cultural community through its temporary exhibition program, explained Thella F. Bowens, president and CEO of the San Diego International Airport.  “This year is no different, and we’re thrilled to have collaboration with San Diego State University faculty on this exhibition, which offers thought-provoking perspectives on a timely and topical subject.”

According to Iglesias-Prieto, the exhibition dovetails with the university’s core missions of embracing diversity, exchanging ideas and celebrating the arts.

“Art can be a great conversation starter and artists can be powerful agents of change in the way we view the border region and broader global discourse,” she said.

It is sparking conversations among some of the 20 million visitors who will travel through the airport this year about immigration and other critical border issues — “conversations similar to those occurring daily on SDSU’s campus and throughout the binational community.”

More information

Point of Entry” is on display through winter of 2017.