Social justice issues concerning race, surveillance, and militarized borders have been the major focal points of my research. My work is extremely diverse both in substance, form, and media and can be roughly divided into “The U.S – Mexico Border Project” (2007-present) and “Textiles: A Metaphorical Tracing” (2012-present). Both bodies of work focus on archives, considering how they shape our histories, whose narratives get included, and whose narratives get left out.
U.S.–Mexico Border Project
The eleven year U.S.–Mexico Border Project includes the Anti-Archive—over 867 objects, 30,000 photographic images and over 15 site-specific actions and interventions in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Field-work for the project also includes interviews with border-crossers and community members in Texas and North Carolina. This work touches on many topics including gender, immigration, and migration, and rethinks the ways in which we look at diversity, identity, and difference. It presents a new way to look at immigration, a topic that has been understood largely through media and popular culture. It demonstrates the continuous flow of individuals across our southern border and the role of nationhood and state power over this transitional space. The objects seen by many as waste left along the banks of the Rio Grande make meaning when reinterpreted as part of the archive and help us understand borders, belonging, and migration in new ways.
This work has been exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland, Flanders Art Gallery, Raleigh, North Carolina, LaStellina Arte Contemporane, Rome, Italy, the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and the Weatherspoon Museum of Art, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Zone of Contention, Weatherspoon Museum of Art, Greensboro, North Carolina, 2012
Objects from the Borderlands, Greensboro Project Space, Greensboro, North Carolina, 2016
Pedro Lasch, Susan Harbage Page and Yinka Shonibare, The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, North Carolina, 2013
The Border Project, Flanders Art Gallery, Raleigh, North Carolina, 2011
Since 2007, I have been making yearly trips/pilgrimages to walk the border and photograph objects left behind by undocumented migrants crossing the U.S–Mexico border between Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas. My work takes an ever-evolving imagined space and concretizes it as a collection of specific objects, first as they are found and photographed in the landscape, then as they are re-photographed (colorful backdrops counter the implication that they are evidence) and archived, and, finally, as they are united in exhibitions. The documentation of the depersonalized objects and photographs gathered over time become a new way to look at the militarization of the border and the ways in which the power of nations plays out in this contested space. In the end, it represents the fact that some people have access and others don’t. The objects I examine all have incomplete and layered narratives attached to them—for example, when a bra is found placed in a tree, it is said that a coyote (person who smuggles people across the U.S.–Mexico border) has placed it there as a sign that a woman has been raped. Barbara Sostaito writes in Feministing.Com:
But unfortunately, geopolitics can make that most natural border crossing extremely dangerous, particularly for women. A bra can remind us how treacherous the crossing can be. Bras found hanging from trees, the artist notes, are supposedly left by coyotes to mark that a woman had been raped there, sadly a very common occurrence. According to a2014 Fusion Investigation, 80% of Central American girls and women crossing Mexico en route to the United States are raped. In fact, the threat of rape is so prevalent that many women migrants receive preventative contraceptive injections before embarking on their journey. Women are not only extremely likely to experience sexual assault, they are alsomore likely than men to die during their migratory journeys, due in part to sexism on the part of coyotes, who are quick to abandon women and children when they can’t keep up. Pregnant women are even more at risk.
Other objects, such as lipstick, eye shadow, or a man’s razor, offer stories of self-care, normalcy, or someone trying to “fit in” after they have crossed the Rio Grande on a black inner tube and changed into dry clothes before possibly being taken to a safe house in Brownsville or McAllen, Texas. A found comb or toothbrush is a sure sign that someone has been picked up by the Border Patrol (anything short and hard is seen as a potential weapon). These present-day archeological artifacts reflect incomplete narratives and a history of flight, surveillance, and fear. We usually celebrate our histories through the objects saved and owned by the privileged. The Anti-Archive resists tradition by saving and archiving objects left behind by anonymous immigrants coming into the U.S. from Mexico.
Objects in the Landscape
Interventions and Performances
I have completed a series of yearly site-specific art interventions along the border in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas (2009-2015). All interventions were sponsored by Galeria 409, Brownsville, Texas.
Crossing Over: A Floating Intervention (2009)
My first site-specific project was a community-based action, Crossing Over: A Floating Intervention, which protested the proposed building of the border fence in Brownsville, Texas. Working with a group of artists from Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, we created a temporary floating bridge made of children’s inner tubes that united Mexico and the United States underneath the Gateway International Bridge. Using found materials we created a welcome table and gave away swimming, running, and canoeing trophies to border crossers.
Loss: Something of Value, Brownsville, Texas (2010)
In Loss: Something of Value, I placed an oversized corona/wreath on the Border Fence to call attention to the losses that take place along the border—familial, cultural, economic, and personal, including the loss of life. The construction of the 8′ x 8′ corona/wreath was based on a wreath found in a local cemetery and created using traditional materials, processes, and colors.
Blue Circle Intervention, Laredo and Brownsville, Texas (2011)
When I walk the border I invite friends from the area to walk, bike, or canoe with me. I give them a border tour of sorts, showing them the objects and the well-worn paths leading away from the riverbanks to nearby hiding spots and roads. After our pilgrimages, they often comment that their understanding of the border has shifted. What they thought was trash they now see as the remnants of people’s lives, representing hope, flight, panic, and fear. Once they see it, they will always see it. In Blue Circle Intervention, instead of picking up the objects, I left them in the landscape and drew a protective blue chalk line around them, making them visible to passersby.
Humanizing the Border (2012-Present)
Thinking about how borders are demarcated and visualized as a straight line on many maps—often put in place by a group of men negotiating political power in an isolated room far away from the actual terrain—prompted me to photograph my body as the border in the Humanizing the Border series. I began this series of actions by lying down in the middle of the Progresso–Nuevo Progress Bridge, placing my body in precise alignment with the international borderline. The intent was to shift the idea of border from an abstract concept to a concrete humanness related to the body. Borders do not just separate ideas, economies, and products but have very real effects on people’s lives, separating them from family members, important healthcare, safe places to live and jobs to support their families.
My prone, vulnerable, protesting body was dwarfed by a constructed representation of border (seven regimented rows of yellow dots indicating caution and danger) in the first action on the Progresso–Nuevo Progress Bridge between the U.S. and Mexico. I obstructed traffic, was almost hit by a car that hadn’t seen me, and was eventually chased away by the U.S. Border Patrol. The river, over which my living breathing body rested, traditionally a waterway where people come together, becomes through the creation of nations a liminal threshold of separation.
I continued the series on the riverbanks, fields and levees along the border each year. My prone body in a position of passive resistance emphasizes the scale of the border fences and gates, and the immense natural landscape that is the border.
My latest versions of these actions have addressed global borders and migration in the Negev Desert, Israel/West Bank and the Austrian/Italian border
My Mother’s Teacups (2012)
My Mother’s Teacups explores immigration via my own English ancestry. By photographing family heirlooms—teacups my mother brought from England to Ohio in 1969 and then to North Carolina when my family migrated South—along the banks of the Rio Grande near McAllen, Texas, I addressed my own and other U.S. citizens’ history of immigration. The teacups inherently symbolize and embody issues of race, class, heritage, mobility, and nationality. They question the willingness of individuals to lay claim to U.S. citizenship and privilege, disregarding their family’s immigration from other countries such as Italy, Ireland, or Poland just two or three generations ago.
Mirrors on the Progresso–Nuevo Progresso Bridge (2012)
Mirrors on the Progresso asks questions about belonging: where we fit in, where we see ourselves, and what meaning that makes. What should be the basis of citizenship and who should make that decision, you or someone else? Should one’s ancestry, one’s birthplace, or one’s sense of belonging define citizenship? Should we be able to cross boundaries freely or not? I placed mirrors on the international boundary line in the middle of the Progresso–Nuevo Progresso Bridge and watched. People saw themselves reflected in the mirrors I placed over the durable and official brass plaque that declared the exact border of the United States of America and Mexico.
Border as Backdrop (2014)
To help me think conceptually about the border as backdrop for politicians I set up a gray backdrop typically used for portraiture at several sites along the border. Often a photo opportunity for ambitious politicians, the border is reduced to a prop or distorted to a menace, without regard to the people and the economic and sociopolitical realities of the place.
This project intended to question how the border would be seen as we led up to the 2016 elections. My prediction was that immigration, labor, border economics, deportation, detention centers, militarization and surveillance issues would be in the news, and the border again would be used to gain political power and voters. My images emphasize not what has been put in front of the backdrop by popular media outlets, but what is to the left of it, the right of it, far behind it? I purposefully leave it empty so the viewer is drawn to see the everyday space and landscape that is normally undifferentiated on our miniaturized backlit phone and computer screens. The politicians who would usually be center stage are absent.
Sewn Border (2014) and Erased Border (2014)
I produced two art videos about humanizing the U.S.–Mexico border: Sewn Border where I literally sew politics into geography via a topographical map and Erased Border which returns the border back to an older blurrier state of being as I literally erase a lead/graphite line representing the border where I walk yearly in Brownsville, Texas. The substrate for the performance is a piece of handmade abaca paper selected for its transparent skin-like qualities. The ambient audio recorded during the action is important in these pieces and is meant to be loud and somewhat dissonant.
Cross the Border: An Art Action(2015)
For my most recent intervention “Cross the Border: An Art Action (2015)” Brownsville, Texas I spent eight hours continually walking back and forth across the “official border crossing” on the International Gateway Bridge between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas. This action was asking why information, technology, goods, and culture pass freely over borders, but bodies cannot. Why must thousands of people annually put their bodies at great risk to walk the same path I walk easily, in an attempt to be safe, provide for their families, and simply belong?
In “Here/There,” I photographed myself holding a series of signs at the border wall and on the banks of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo in Brownsville, Texas. The signs called attention to the issues and divisions that borders create: here/there, us/them, belonging/non-belonging, access/non-access, safety/non-safety. In this image I hold up the sign “Here” while my foot is holding down the sign that says “There”. This can be read as a metaphor, if you hold someone or some country in place, your country and personhood is also held in place.
Crossing Over: Embodied Text (2016)
Crossing Over: Embodied Text is a small installation, which includes sound. I installed it for the first time in the exhibition “Objects from the Borderlands: The U.S. Mexico Anti-Archive,” at Greensboro Project Space presented by the National Folk Festival, Greensboro, North Carolina (2016). It consists of edited audio interviews of two women who crossed the border, a ribbon text made of excerpts from the interviews, and objects important to the women’s stories, which they brought with them across the border. This work is a new way of presenting difficult, intensely personal interviews —the viewer/listener can hold the words in their hands, giving more weight to each sentence, as voices rise and fall against each other. Two Greensboro women who crossed the US-Mexico border illegally shared their journeys and remembered what objects they brought with them.
Important to my artistic production in the last five years, “Textiles: A Metaphorical Tracing” is a long and unfolding project. Begun in 2012, it explores the gendered history, labor, economic and social implications of handmade and machine made textiles in Italy and America through drawings, paintings, video, audio, installation and performance.
It includes several bodies of work: Merletti/Lace, Intimate Spaces, Colletti/Collars, Succumb, Regola/Rules, Wandering, The Red Spider Web performance, and the installations Cum Grano Salis and Stitch by Stitch. They draw on my earlier work, including Working Women (1992), photographs and interviews of women I worked with in a Charlotte, North Carolina textile plant, Almost Invisible (1996, 2016) photographs and interviews of the Bedouin community and a women’s weaving cooperative in the Negev Desert community, Lakiya; Mermaid (2007) a video of my hands undoing, stitch-by-stitch, a found embroidery of a mermaid; and an earlier body of work, Embroideries (2008), where I stitched words relating to politics and the lives of women into found embroideries, among other works.
This art and research addresses gendered labor and the difficult questions raised by textile traditions, including lacemaking, embroidery and textile manufacturing at the turn of the century. These artworks provoke dialogue about authorship and women’s value by repositioning the handmade objects of anonymous women in relation to the human body, social status, economics and mechanical reproduction through changes in scale, context, medium and design. In addition to my drawings and paintings my research includes creating my own archive of objects and information including lace collars, crochet doilies, antique wooden bobbins, historic cardboard bobbin lace patterns, early publications about lace making, cloth lace patterns, antique photographs of women crocheting and doing handwork, early punch-card patterns used in shuttle-loom textile machines of the early 1900’s, my own documentary photography, video, and audio footage of women making lace and crochet doilies, and textile factories.
Continuum, Light Art + Design, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2016
Seeing|Saying: Images and Words, curated by Lia Newman, Van Every/Smith Galleries, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, 2016
Merletti/Lace (2012) and Lo Strappo della Storia, Conversazione con Merletti/History’s Pull: Conversations With Lace (2013)
Over thirty detailed ink drawings of lace collars and doilies conceptually recreating the labor of lace making by representing each stitch with a drawn circle. The pieces range in size from 8” x 10” to 24” x 30”. Ink on Handmade Abaca Paper.
The exhibition Lo Strappo della Storia, Conversazione con Merletti/History’s Pull, Conversations with Lace (2013) was curated by Manuela De Leonardis and accompanied by a catalogue/monograph. The exhibition received extensive news coverage in all of the major national Italian newspapers, social media and the national television newscasts. It included 20 drawings, a wall-sized monument of lace collar drawings, and a large scale laser cut doily (9’ x 5’) which draped down from the ceiling.
In the exhibition Lo Strappo Della Storia, Conversazione con Merletti/History’s Pull: Conversations with Lace, Rome, Italy (2013), and Cum Grano Salis, Viterbo, Italy (2012) I explore the materiality of the object by withholding the actual piece of lace and presenting translations of the object as intimate and wall-size drawings, paintings and installation. The oversized collars/pieces of lace then become visualizations and monuments to stifling domesticity, status, and women’s labor. Each drawing or artwork represents the work of two authors: the original maker and myself as the artist, connected through many hours of labor joining one stitch to another. The works embrace the conceptual reproduction of labor, each stitch is drawn and animated as a small circle instead of a drawing with straight lines. I spend hours closely examining, tracing, and then drawing and altering the designs/shapes of the lace. I often leave blank or unfinished spaces in my work and these spaces of presence and absence reference the labor and individual stitches that become invisible when a piece of handwork is complete.
Manuela De Leonardis, freelance curator and Art Critic at the national Italian newspaper, Il Manifesto, Rome, Italy says:
Taking old embroideries/doilies/laces and graphically retracing their borders, Harbage Page carries out a conceptual operation. She places the embroidery or the doily under a sheet of hand-made translucent paper and, with ink that is prevalently black but also magenta, she re-codifies its design. In the passage from artifact to work of art, the American artist thus reconstructs the most intimate matrix of the object, endowing the hand of the woman who made it with a metaphorical identity.
Lo Strappo della Storia, Conversazione con Merletti/History’s Pull: Conversations With Lace (2013), Curated by Manuela De Leonardis
Cum Grano Salis, an installation at Gallery Kyo in Viterbo for the Caffeine Cultura Festival explores the materiality of a lace collar by withholding the actual piece of lace and presenting translations of the object as a wall-size graphite drawing, a photograph, and a photograph of a drawing. It also included a large pile of salt in the middle of the room with two ceramic figurines of women attached to each other at their feet/base. They are holding each other in place as they balance on a pile of salt. The Italian word for salt comes from the Italian word “salis” or salary, which references 15th century-laborers who were paid in salt. The work also references the “salt road” which leads directly to the town of Viterbo.
Sitting by the door of the gallery is an empty folding chair implying that a young woman (typically seen doing the labor of receiving guests in high end art venues) will return at any moment to the gallery. In the chair, the viewer sees a series of feminist books the young woman is reading, a ceramic figurine of a woman with her hand held high as if she is resisting, a pine cone, and a button left in a dresser drawer by a pilgrim in a cloistered Augustinian convent in Spello, Italy.
Intimate Spaces – Linens, Towels, Beds, From the Monastary, Spello, Italy (2012)
The bath towels are always folded and placed at the foot of beds made for religious pilgrims passing through on their way to Assisi. They become color studies of sorts when they become bigger than life in the prints. They show the signs of long use, wear and care—as they are neatly folded time after time.
Over 28 paintings and drawings of collars, and paintings which enlarge and play with scale in individual stitches and unraveled threads. The Crochet Islands were inspired by a found antique lace sample book. Pieces range in size from 11” x 14” to 4’ x 5’. Gouache on paper.
Stitch by Stitch (2013)
Completed for the juried Art in Odd Places Festival in Greensboro, NC. “Stitch by Stitch” is drawn in chalk from the center out. The completed mural is a giant crocheted doily that transformed a downtown wall in the city center of Greensboro, NC. Created as a meditative performance, every one hundred stitches was completed with a different chalk color, making visible the gendered labor that often becomes invisible when looking at a completed piece of handmade lace or crochet.
Over 60 paintings, which compare and reinterpret the physical cardboard patterns, which are used in the production of handmade bobbin lace and textile machines of the early 1900’s. These works are Influenced by John Cage’s ideas of “Silence”, “Chance”, “Indeterminacy”, and sourcing the “everyday.” Pieces range in size from 8” x 10” to 40” x 50”. Gouache on handmade abaca paper.
93 paintings made on found paper including a Napoleonic Ledger circa 1800 listing the tax value of individuals and a book of rules printed for Capistrano Friars. These paintings explore rules: rules of the game, exceptions to the rule, how we voluntarily regulate ourselves, and how others regulate us. Director of The Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College, Lia Newman, states:
The title for the series, Regola – in English, “rule” – is derived from the text in one of the found books the artist uses as her substrate in which a list of rules for Capistrano Friars was printed in 1827. For Page, who has spent much of her career creating artwork exploring race, surveillance, and militarized borders, rules are worth considering: “rules of the game, exceptions to the rule, how we voluntarily regulate ourselves, and how others regulate us.
Page’s marks may be likened to palimpsest or marginalia. She works on top of pre-existing printed and handwritten texts. The artist notes that, historically, text has been considered masculine, while the marks she makes – drawings, handwritten errand lists, and hand-drawn stitches denoting Italian merletti or lacework – is considered feminine. Page overlaps, changes, adds to, crosses out, and confirms the marks previously made. This seems particularly poignant when she works, for example, atop a Napoleonic tax ledger listing the monetary value or worth of various individuals. Her process both unmakes and rewrites history, creating a new kind of truth.
Pieces range in size from 10.4’ x 13’ to 19’ x 38’. Gouache on found antique paper and contemporary handmade abaca paper.
Il Sangue Delle Donne: Tracce di Rosso Sul Panno Bianco/The Blood of Women: Traces of Red on White Cloth (2015)
An embroidered textile artwork “Work, Play, Love, Bleed” on antique found linen used as a menstrual pad was featured in the exhibition: Il Sangue Delle Donne: Tracce di Rosso Sul Panno Bianco/The Blood of women: Traces of Red on White Cloth, curated by Manuela De Leonardis at the Casa Internazionale delle Donne, Rome, Italy (October, 2015) which included the publication of an exhibition catalogue. The exhibition traveled to Croatia and Serbia in 2017.
“Work, Play, Love, Bleed” is about the cycle of life and menstruation which is often invisible in contemporary culture. Blood represents the creation of life and a great source of power for women. The white circle is a reference to the moon and cycles. I imagine A.T. (whose initials were embroidered) when it was given to me was a nun. Her red cross-stitched initials echo those I have seen on linens and towels in the monastery of cloistered Augustinian nuns I stay with in Spello, Italy. A.T. always had a monthly cycle but never a child. The work becomes a sort of collaboration as I add embroidery in red and white to the piece, which she initially stitched in red. She claimed it for herself with the initials and there-after washed and ironed it monthly. Embroidery on found antique linen, 21”x 18.5”
My site-specific solo performance and installation, The Red Spider Web/La Ragnatela Rossa, curated by Manuela De Leonardis, was premiered at Villa Pacchiani, Pisa (Santa Croce Sull’Arno), Italy (2015). For this performance I collaborated with composer Kenneth Stewart to complete a musical composition/soundscape “Precarity” based on the audio recordings and remixed sounds generated as I baked a black walnut cake in my kitchen from a recipe my grandmother passed on to me. The audio played in the background during my performance which included weaving a large-scale red spider web in the gallery.
Video Poems: Mermaid (2007), Tessitura (2014), Relentless (2014), Merletti (2014)
My interest in images of anonymous women—embroidered by contemporary women—prompted this action of deconstructing a found embroidery in Mermaid (2007). Assistant Professor and art historian at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Dr. Laurel Frederickson states:
Mermaid is a video poem which show’s Page’s fingers meticulously picking out the threads that have been embroidered in the image of the heroine of Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Little Mermaid,” a mythic being that signifies as both a siren and a prostitute. In the un-working of the stitching, Page deconstructs a symbol of female seduction and tragic love and the gender stereotypes it supports. Yet, her careful work also celebrates the skill that went into the making of the needlework.
Tessitura, Relentless, and Merletti comprise a series of three short video poems (circa ten minutes each), which use the anachronistic sounds of economy and labor, Tessitura/Weave addresses ideas of gender and community. Filmed in the summer of 2014, these experimental documentaries explore the traditions of lacemaking and turn-of-the-century mechanical textile production in rural Italy. Tessitura was premiered at Il Museo della Canapa, Sant’ Anatolia de Narco, Italy (2017), curated by Glenda Giampaoli,
New and Ongoing Projects
Across County Lines: Contemporary Photography from the Piedmont
Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
October 04, 2018 – February 10, 2019
Photography is arguably the region’s most widely practiced artistic medium. From analogue to digital to experimental, the range of photographic techniques practiced throughout North Carolina is both broad and deep. Across County Lines: Contemporary Photography from the Piedmont presents 39 artists in a group exhibition exploring the striking cross-currents of photographic work happening in the Piedmont region of this state. The exhibition blends the photography of both emerging and established photographers, with images dating from the 1970s to the present day. Subject matter ranges from portraiture and landscape to the conceptual, abstract, and experimental.
The artists, all of whom have close connections to the region, include Ben Alper, D.L. Anderson, Bill Bamberger, Endia Beal, Titus Brooks Heagins, Diego Camposeco, Aaron Canipe, Kennedi Carter, Faith Couch, Phyllis Dooney, Tim Duffy, Heather Evans Smith, William Ferris, Maya Freelon, Tamika Galanis, Michael Galinksy, Susan Harbage Page, Alex Harris, Harrison Haynes, Caroline Hickman Vaughan, Colby Katz, Anna Kipervaser and On Look Films, Jeremy Lange, Bryce Lankard, Jim Lee, Elizabeth Matheson, Lisa McCarty, Lindsay Metivier, Tom Rankin, John Rosenthal, Margaret Sartor, MJ Sharp, Christopher Sims, Leah Sobsey and Tim Telkamp, Hồng-Ân Trương and Hương Ngô, Burk Uzzle and Gesche Würfel.
Creating Community: We are all here
Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham North Carolina
The place where an artist is based can significantly impact their work. Similarly, artists influence their communities in profound ways. With a focus on artists from North Carolina, Creating Community: We Are All Here explores the relationships between artist and place.
This installation considers the work of artists who immigrated to North Carolina, as well as those originally from the state, and the many ways that community may be represented through photography, sculpture and textiles. —————–
Hubert Walters (maker of boats and birds), photograph above, Susan Harbage Page 1995. The exhibition includes work by Michael Jenkins, Susan Harbage Page, Silvia Heyden, Hubert Walters, Jerstin Crosby and Bill Thelen, and Burk Uzzel.
Embroidery as Contemporary Art – Roundtable Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice, May 18, 6pm
Looking forward to participating in this roundtable of creatives from various fields. Museo Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice. In collaboration with MicroClima. 18 May, 6 pm. Organized by curator Cornelia Lauf.
Photo above courtesy of Cornelia Lauf, May 18, Venice
Merletti No. 14
Created by Light, Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina. The show will ran September 16, 2017–February 11, 2018
Exploring the photography collections of nine North Carolina art museums, the exhibition Created by Light showcased over 100 photographs highlighting both the pioneers of the medium and contemporary artists working in the field today. The exhibition opens to the public at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington on September 16, 2017.
CAM invited eight North Carolina art museums to participate in this collaborative exhibition, asking each to curate which photographs to feature from their permanent collections. One museum focused on Bauhaus works created between the world wars, another curated a body of work by North Carolina photographers, while others chose work by such well-known artists as Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, Susan Harbage Page, Mickalene Thomas, Burk Uzzle, Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind, Francesca Woodman and Ansel Adams.
Pathways into the Borderlands
Five Points: A Journal of Art and Literature Vol. 18, No. 2
Portfolio of Photographs by Susan Harbage Page, Essay by Audrey Goodman
First artwork of the new year.. A work I’ve been considering since Trump announced his travel ban. My old passport gold-leafed—thinking about what it means to have access. Why goods, culture, technology can all cross borders seamlessly and bodies cannot. What does it mean to have a passport? Who gets to decide if you have one? What privilege it brings me? What it means to hide behind wealth? How does this privilege both obscure and reveal who I am.
What it means to walk on the U.S.-Mexico border using my U.S.–Passport to stay in the same place that others are throwing out their passports and identity cards to remain in. How many times I placed these pieces of paper, this tiny book with stamps, securely in my pocket or backpack, counting on them to keep me safe. What it means to belong?
I find the figurines forlornly sitting on the shelves of local thrift stores and antique malls. Many of them reference English society of the 1800s, but imprints and markings declare “Made in China” or “Made in Korea.” They evoke the dolls my grandmother made me as a child, with cloth bodies and ceramic heads, hands, and feet, or the Topsy-Turvy dolls with a white woman on one side and a black woman on the other, separated by a skirt, and the shelves of my childhood bedroom filled with collections of ceramic horses, bunnies, and kittens produced to be “looked at.” They also call to mind the downstairs closets of my childhood, which held the bulky two-part plaster molds that my mother and grandmother used to make porcelain figurines, reproducing identical female forms, each one poured, dried, and fired in a small kiln, and then meticulously hand painted with dresses in pastel blues, pinks, and greens.
I break, glue, and recombine the found ceramics figurines to conceptualize new meanings for them. The title for this series comes from Judith Butler’s theory of “precarity,” which posits that even as all bodies are vulnerable to suffering or injury, some bodies are more protected politically and socially. This series examines the modes in which culture reproduces itself to support patriarchal power systems, imagined histories, and strict gender binaries. When broken and rearranged, these images of the privileged classes reproduced for cultural consumption lose their cultural power and position and, in their own precarity, illuminate the challenges of equity, parity, and vulnerability. Series of fifteen ceramic sculptures. Pieces range from 4” by 5” to 18’ by 18”
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Migrant’s Lament: Sewing Politics into Geography (2016)
Migrant’s Lament: Sewing Politics into Geography, a site-specific installation and performance (30’ by 24’) in the Ex Casserma Monte Rita (military barracks) for the international Biennale Arte Dolomite, is a meditation on the increasing number of border walls throughout the world. Over forty border walls have been constructed in the wake of 9/11 and the Arab Spring. Record numbers of (im)migrants are in movement in the U.S., the E.U., the Middle East, and North Africa, challenging the limits of our global world’s hospitality and compassion. Millions of immigrants are vulnerable, sleeping outside in tents and blankets, experiencing and suffering the lived reality and trauma of decisions made by far-away leaders, thinking about resources and protecting what they already have—instead of people.
In the installation Migrant’s Lament, I literally sew politics into humanity. I sit in the middle of the room on a pink chair and sew a dotted red line into a blue blanket. The action/performance references the millions of individuals that are affected by the construction of nation-state borders. In the installation, topographical maps hang from a red chalk line around the room. The red line, a representation of life, unites all of the maps. The maps depict a region that was once a part of Mexico but now belongs to the U.S. as a result of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Signed in 1848, the treaty established the Rio Grande as the boundary for Texas, giving the U.S. ownership of California, half of New Mexico, most of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. Mexicans in those areas had the choice to relocate within Mexico or stay within those boundaries and receive American citizenship.
In addition, I added various markings and text on the wall with chalk including words like “appartenere/belonging,” “here,” “there,” and symbols including arrows and a white box, referencing privilege. The entire room is marked with a waist-high red line as a boundary or border marker. I wrote the names of countries who have constructed walls to keep people out above the line, and the country on the other side of the wall below the line, for example: Israel/Palestine and India/Bangladesh. I left chalk on the ground floor of the installation and audience members added to the text and wall markings throughout the exhibition.
In the corner of the room, the viewer finds a carefully folded pile of wool blankets representing our global world and the compassion and care we need to summon in support of individuals at this pivotal moment.
The installation questions borders and their creation with an unfinished rock wall built on a red chalk line drawn on the ground. The viewer remains unclear about this wall. Is it being constructed or deconstructed? It asks the viewer to think deeply about what is happening in our world today.
Over 90 paintings and drawings which explore 14th -16th century indigo Blue Umbrian weavings These Indigo blue and white Italian textiles were initially highly valued and sometimes used as altar clothing. Over time, they became everyday working linens including tablecloths, dishtowels, and rags. This series also explores handmade crocheted and lace collars as well as meditation involved in the making/production process.