Mujeres Talk: A Visit From Artist Ana Teresa Fernandez

Photo by Rio Yañez

Ana Teresa Fernandez is a visual artist, sculptor, and performance artist based in San Francisco, CA. Originally from Tampico, Mexico, Ana moved in 1991 with her family to San Diego, California. In the early 2000s, Ana earned her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute [SFAI], and began teaching drawing and painting around the time I began teaching in the humanities at the SFAI. But before I actually met her, I first encountered Ana Teresa Fernandez through her 2008 exhibition, “Ecdisis: Juarez, Mexico” at the Galería de la Raza in San Francisco, California. See 

 This exhibit featured Ana’s oversized ex-votos, better known as milagros, which are the diminutive metal fetishes of hands, hearts, arms, and other sacred body parts often used in syncretic and hybrid spiritual rituals in Mexico and Central America. Ana’s replicas of Milagros were “life-size” and hung on a red velvet wall. By isolating these representations of body parts and contextualizing them within a well-known spiritual practice for many Mexicanas and Latinas, Ana reframed the recovery of the mutilated and desecrated bodies of women murdered in Juarez. This show stayed with me for many years as I tried to find ways to talk and teach about Ciudad Juarez and representations of female sexuality and gender in the neoliberal state. See  

Another component of the exhibit featured Ana’s creation of glass sculptures of several children, orphaned by the femicide in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as well as children left parentless through sexual and labor exploitation in Bangladesh and Vietnam. Ana began the process of creating the sculptures first by taking molds of the children in various poses. She then took the molds and covered them with broken glass from beer bottles. Her choice of material was based on her travels through Haiti and Ciudad Juarez where she noticed that broken glass was often as a type of home security system, placed at the tops of walls as a defense against robbery and other crimes. The broken glass sculptures were illuminated during the 2008 exhibit and positioned against walls of the Galería; one of the sculpture-children was placed on a bench. The figures were at once beautiful, haunting, and lonely. Ana wanted viewers to think about the multi-generational repercussions of the ongoing femicide in Ciudad Juarez, as well as the fallout of other epicenters of violence against women. Ultimately, the broken glass sculptures visually conveyed Ana’s and our inability to protect these children from the crimes against their mothers and the traumas imposed upon them as a consequence and in the future without the protective presence and defense of their mothers.

Photo by Rio Yañez

Returning to her recent lecture at my campus on November 8, Ana centered her presentation around her 2010 work, “Borranda la barda/Erasing the border.” ( In 2010, Ana “set an enormous ladder against the border wall separating Playas de Tijuana from San Diego’s Border Field State park, and using a generator and a spray gun, she started painting the bars a pale powdery blue. While wearing a little black cocktail dress. And black pumps” (Jill Holslin, 2010). Writer Jill Holslin concludes that “Erasing the border, then, reminds us of the power of utopian visions, of dreams and the imagination.” Utopian visions are not uncommon in narrative, and Ana works across many mediums, from visual art, to performance and social sculpture, to tell the stories that shape our cultural experiences. For those of you who may not be familiar with social sculpture, it’s an idea put forth by Joseph Beuys in the 1960s and 1970s that proposes sculpture as a potential for and an act of societal transformation.

One aspect of “Borranda la barda” that I had difficulty reconciling is Ana’s selected wardrobe for painting the border fence: a little black dress and black high heels. As a Chicana who has witnessed many offensive perceptions of overtly sexual apparel, I didn’t know how to read this component of her performance and intervention on the border. During her lecture, however, Ana explained that the “little black dress” is a loaded symbol—even a kind of capital—in the western imagination. By placing it out of its expected context—the nightclub, the lounge, etc.—Ana is able to channel its co-opted power, or objectifying gaze and turn it back on her viewer.

Also, while in the midst of painting the border that perfect shade of sky blue, she was detained by to policemen on the Mexican side, while helicopters hovered above her on the U.S. side. Her negotiation with the police went on for 45 minutes. Ana contends that her little black dress had everything to do with her ability to finish painting the piece.

Earlier this year, Ana learned that “Borranda la barda” had been destroyed—repainted the black color of the fence. Prior to arriving at Cornell to give her lecture, Ana returned to the fence and repainted “Borranda la barda” that perfect shade of sky blue that, at a certain distance, restores the horizon to an unbroken, unblocked natural divide, where the ocean meets the land.

Ella Diaz is an Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University and is an elected At-Large Representative of MALCS. Her research is on the interdependence of Chican@ and Latin@ literary and visual cultures.

7 thoughts on “Mujeres Talk: A Visit From Artist Ana Teresa Fernandez”

  1. I had the pleasure of seeing Ana Teresa Fernandez’s work when she came to Cornell University and presented “Blurring Borders: Redefining Truths, Fables, and Folklores”. I was familiar with a few of her works before the presentation, but the highlight of the presentation for me was hearing about how Ana utilized local materials (garbage in Haiti, glass in Mexico) within her art and performance. The lack of accessible “traditional” art materials (paint, paper, brushes, etc.) was incredibly striking when we see the incredible work Ana has done in engaging local materials within a community consciousness in Haiti. Her representation of the children of Mexico orphaned by the Femicides in Ciudad Juarez was a striking portrayal of the multi-generational impact of violence and the inability to protect children from this trauma.

    In her performance of “Borranda la barda”, Ana addressed the binaries of female identity (perceived and performed) along a heavy politicalized border state. Her performance of both female identity and nationalism was particularly striking in the U.S./Mexico borderlands, specifically when looking at the Femicides of Ciudad Juarez.
    I look forward to researching Ana’s work in the future and am extremely thankful I was given the opportunity to hear her present her work at Cornell University.
    -Sarah Anderson

  2. What a courageous artistic intervention into difficult subjects. Thank you Ella, for providing the context of these creations. It makes me appreciate her sensibility to address literal dismemberment, carnage if you will, without producing more injury.

  3. Dear Ella, Thanks for sharing the pictures and discussion of Ana Teresa Fernandez’s work. The casts of children covered in broken glass are quite moving, and ask us to reflect on violence against children on many levels in new global economies. How wonderful for your students as well that they heard her and had the opportunity to learn about violence at the U.S.-Mexico border through an artist’s engagement with the topic that foregrounds critical discussion. Theresa Delgadillo, Co-Moderator of Mujeres Talk

  4. “without producing more injury.” What a beautiful response, Ester, to Ana’s work in the Ecdysis show on the murdered women of Juarez.

  5. I also had the opportunity to attend her lecture and the lunch with her.
    The choice to bring ATF to Cornell, especially given the timing with our class was great. It allowed us to be exposed to a new kind of artist, one that is raising awareness about most of the issues discussed in class.

    She is resourceful and works with her environment, this is very important because it teaches people, specially the natives of the area, that they can use anything to beautify and create art. This was evident in her work in Haiti and in South Africa. In the latter country, she was able to show that artists have the duty to report the beauties of everyday life instead of reporting/focusing on the negative like the news do.

    Overall, it was a great experience being able to meet her and understand the thought process and goals of her art.
    -Gloria Guerra

  6. Though I know this blog talks about Ana Teresa Fernadez’s work, I really enjoyed the altar of photographs that Maria Teresa Fernandez, who happens to be Ana Teresa’s mother, created and left on display for at the Latino Studies Program here at Cornell University until late November. It was a way of humanizing the border when so many times it is militarized especially by the responses the United States has taken in the past years (because the U.S. must “secure” the border). I was able to actually take an instructor and another peer of mine who would have never stumbled upon this type of work and show them the exhibit. This was a way for me to raise consciousness in others (esp. since that one peer came from a privileged background).

    Moving back to the work that Ana Teresa Fernandez did on the border really struck me. She stated in her lecture that her work was about “transcending the given, by changing the context” and she gave them example of the broom and how it wasn’t dirty on the floor but was dirty when left on a pillow. She does the same with her little black dress and she places it out of context and calls attention to what she is doing but more importantly to the border and how she is erasing it as she paints it blue.

    I could continue to go on but all I can say is that I was taken aback by both Ana Teresa and Maria Teresa’s ingenuity and how they use art to speak and give voice to those who are voiceless in our world.

  7. Attending Ana Teresa Fernandez’s lecture at Cornell University was a great experience . There were two exhibits that struck me the most. The first one was NanMitaNan: Haiti. I thought it was amazing that Ana Teresa was able to make sculptures out of plastic bottles she found. More importantly, the clear plastic material against the backdrop of oil lamps not only showed Ana’s ability to use the resources around her, it reflected the ghost of the beautiful architectural structures in Haiti, the lack of resources and the invisibility of Haitian people to the rest of the world. I believe that Haiti is stuck “nan mitana” or in the middle between their historic accomplishments of gaining independence in 1804 and the potential of what nation could be. Her Ecdisis:Juarez, Mexico exhibit was also very memorable . The glass figures of the children were beautiful but it made me realize the generational effects that femicides have on these children. The children are fragile but defensive just like the jagged pieces of glass that make up the sculptures. To have their mothers taken way from them without justice being served is devastating. Thus, the femicides in Juarez has serious implications for the future of Juarez.

    I thought Ana Teresa’s work was fantastic. I hope she continues to do more work involving different human rights issues around the world.

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