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Portion of "The Reading Room" with close-up on panel about bilingual education, The Bridge Gallery, El Paso, Texas
-photos Lynn Susholtz and Ruth Wallen

Las Comadres was a multinational women's collective of artists, educators and critics who studied, taught and created art in the San Diego / Tijuana region during the years 1988 to 1992. The group included over fifteen women from the United States, Mexico, Britain and Argentina, of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Initially, we met together as a study group to discuss theory, art, and politics in relation to our experiences in/of the increasingly polarized U.S.-Mexico frontier. Fundamentally, we were committed to perceiving the border experience as a bridge rather than a barrier to dialogue, a foundation on which to build a discussion of art making and activism. The group viewed itself, its structure and its activities, as a new and evolving paradigm for the region--a cross cultural, multidisciplinary, feminist cooperative devoted to understanding and communication across the many existent cultural, linguistic, artistic, and political divisions.

In 1990, the newly named Las Comadres took an activist position in response to the increased violence against undocumented Mexican laborers and the rise of nativist feelings along the San Diego / Tijuana border. Witnessing the growing numbers of San Diegans participating in anti-immigrant demonstrations, and the increasingly inflamed rhetoric directed against Mexican immigrants, Las Comadres joined the voices of counter-protest by distributing a Border Handbook that provided contextual information about the relationship between the United States and Mexico. We also contributed to the visual expression of counterprotest, and participated in the ensuing dialogue among all those who laid claim to the border.

Concurrently, Las Comadres became interested in how both artists and the media represented the Other, notably our Mexican neighbors but also women, the poor, and people of color. The group deconstructed examples of representational strategies used to disempower or objectify those groups, and discussed how artists and arts organizations often perpetuate strategies of misrepresentation and misinformation. The photographic exhibition Los Vecinos/The Neighbors commissioned by the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts in 1990, which represented the "neighbors" largely as poor, desperate, shadowy aliens trying to scale the border fence, was closely studied as an example of how visual representation can work as a negative, polarizing stereotype of Tijuana.

"The Kitchen," from La Vecindad, installation at The Bridge Gallery
photo Lynn Susholtz
"The Conflict Room," from La Vecindad during performance of Border Boda at The Bridge Gallery
photo Lynn Susholtz

The result of Las Comadres' border activism, theoretical studies and ongoing analysis of the responsibilities of the art maker was La Vecindad / The Neighborhood, a multi-media, multidisciplinary exhibition. The installation featured three principle spaces representing not so much different places as different frameworks. A bright, multicolored kitchen contrasted with a completely black and white "conflict room." A third space, actually two small rooms, included a border feminist library and video viewing room. A performance, Border Boda, (Wedding) which was staged in the installation, centered around the differences between written and oral, as well as "First World" and "Third World" histories. We explored what it meant to create border culture, a culture that instead of highlighting the alien and destitute celebrated the entire neighborhood.

La Vecindad was installed originally at the Centro Cultural de la Raza, San Diego, California in 1990 and subsequently opened at the Bridge Gallery for Contemporary Art in El Paso, Texas in 1991. In 1993 a new version of the library was included in a large traveling exhibition, La Frontera/The Border. By this time the group Las Comadres no longer existed as such, the same tensions that motivated our collaboration contributing to our break-up. Still trying to understand the many reasons for our "divorce fronterizo" we have continued our conversation, providing each other with an important ground for addressing the ongoing polarizations of border politics.

-from the introduction to "Making Art, Making Citizens: Las Comadres and Postnational Aesthetics," by Aida Mancillas, Ruth Wallen, and Marguerite R. Waller published in With Other Eyes: Looking at Race and Gender in Visual Culture, Lisa Bloom, editor

In no particular order the members of Las Comadres were: Anna O'Cain, Carmela Castrejón, Maria Eraña, Lynn Susholtz, Emily Hicks, Cindy Zimmerman, Berta Jottar, Maria Kristina Dybbro-Aguirre, Kirsten Aaboe, Graciela Ovejero, Eloisa de Leon, Laura Esparza, Rocio Weiss, Frances Charteris, Yareli Arizmendi, Marguerite Waller, Aida Mancillas, and Ruth Wallen

Critical Essay about Las Comadres by Jo-anne Berelowitz