El Flow a Look at Borderland Youth Culture

By Jenn O’Hanlon

UTEP News Service

During the past year, students from eight high schools, four on each side of the border, have interacted with one another and explored what it means to be border youth through conversations, artwork and online exchanges.

That collaboration is currently displayed in the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at The University of Texas at El Paso as El Flow, an exhibit created by local artists and students from Eastwood, Hanks, Riverside and Bel Air high schools in the Ysleta Independent School District and four Juárez schools.El Flow is showing at the Rubin Center through Aug. 31 and seeks to portray borderland youth culture. Photo by Josh Garcia / UTEP News Service El Flow is showing at the Rubin Center through Aug. 31 and seeks to portray borderland youth culture. Photo by Josh Garcia / UTEP News Service

In this case, ‘flow’ describes the way in which culture, language, music and styles wash back and forth across the border in a continual flow that rises and falls. This ongoing interchange of ideas and experiences forms a unique border rhythm that is mixed and re-mixed by each generation, producing a unique experience for border youth.

The Rubin Center invited a series of professional artists and artist collectives to respond to artwork created by students and to the themes of border life that were raised in their writing and discussion.

“We were really committed to the fact that there is a border culture that is different on either side, but that there are things that are important and shared,” said Kerry Doyle, associate curator and assistant director of the Rubin Center. “We focused on the topics of identity and community.”

The project created both actual and virtual spaces for communication and interchange, which served as a catalyst for dialogue in a bi-national community that has been partially torn apart by violence.

“We created a virtual space by opening a Facebook page where students had conversations back and forth while being organically bilingual,” Doyle said. “One of the most fruitful portions of the project was the discussions that were had at the individual schools. In one particularly rich conversation, students on both sides of the border raised stereotypes that were similar and questioned their meaning.”

With the support of the United States Consulate in Mexico and the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, Doyle brought in local artists and artist affiliates to produce art as a reflection of the student activities, artwork and conversations.

Doyle said there were two pieces that captured the strongest response from the artists, who are young themselves. Untitled, created by El Pidio Jesus Perez, and La Evolución del Juego/Revolution of the Toy, by Arturo Damasco, focused on the wisdom of experience and the evolution of childhood.

“We got an idea of how the students view the border as well as some of their concerns and interests,” said artist El Pidio. “Although they live in different countries, they have many things in common and at the same time they have very different experiences, and it is the wisdom of these combined experiences that makes this project interesting. It would take one person an entire lifetime to come to this level of knowledge.”

The artwork will be on display at the Rubin Center through Aug. 31. A concurrent exhibition will be shown at the Rodadora Museum in Juárez when it opens in the fall. Doyle said many people have been emotionally moved by the exhibit on display in the L Gallery on UTEP’s campus.

“Visitors have been heartened to see the connection between the two cities,” Doyle said. “People always want to find ways to connect, and it’s not always clear how to do that. The fact that the same exhibit is shared in two places makes that relationship possible.”

Students will be building border relations for the future of both countries. Doyle hoped to instill the power of an open mind in the students involved in the El Flow project. She wanted them to have an understanding and not fall into stereotypes that are prevalent in society and the media. Doyle knows that many of the students she worked with may attend UTEP to earn a degree in the future.

“To have a basis for building relationships benefits not only UTEP, but the future of the border as a whole,” Doyle said. “Art and culture have a very special role in making this connection, oftentimes before other areas are ready to do so. The idea of being able to respond and share ideas and visions happens in a very fluid way when working with visual arts. It provides an inspiration and something to strive for in areas that take a little more time to build or rebuild relationships.”