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An activist group is working to build a sculpture on a hilltop close to the border fence in San Ysidro that could serve as a welcome sign for immigrants.
The plan is to light the artwork up at night, and make it 40 feet tall so it’s visible to immigrants and refugees waiting in Tijuana to cross the border into the United States. The sculpture is meant to counter anti-immigrant rhetoric.
The Welcome the Stranger project, planned for the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in San Ysidro, is the brainchild of the San Diego Organizing Project, a nonprofit made up of local faith leaders and residents. The group has raised $1 million for the project and is working to raise $1 million more for both the artwork and a public plaza at its base.
Local artist Jim Bliesner came up with the design, which is an interpretation of the Virgin Mary as the Statue of Liberty. He said the idea was hatched through several design workshops with members of the Mt. Carmel church’s congregation and residents from the surrounding community.
“This project has involved engaging with people all the way from the beginning to the end,” Bliesner said. “The subject is a very emotional one, so I thought it would be a good idea to design a process geared toward allowing people to express their emotions. The design of the artwork comes from that listening process. People are the medium as much as the metal.”
Welcome the Stranger will be officially launched at a public event at the church Friday, when community members will write the names of loved ones who’ve been impacted by immigration policy on dozens of colorful ribbons that they’ll tie to a fence.
Bliesner, an artist who has a history of creating public artwork in areas close to the U.S.-Mexico border, said he thinks of the sculpture as a memorial to the struggle of migrants all over the world. He also said the piece is meant to remind viewers of immigrants’ humanity.
“I want it to make people step back and recognize that these are human beings,” he said. “These are babies, mothers, sister, brothers, aunts. We need to be cognizant that this is human suffering. I hope the sculpture can become a catalyst for helping to change the narrative on the border.”
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
An old warehouse in Grant Hill has been converted into a performance art venue.
Inside the new venue is a must-see show called “Beyond Babel,” a dance performance I told you about back in July.
I saw the show Sunday, and left in awe of the incredible effort dancers and choreographers Mari and Keone Madrid put into every detail of the piece – from the hand-crocheted set design to the stage that literally moves back and forth so the audience can zoom in on intimate moments.
The narrative dance performance touches on love, loss and violence. The tale is told in the Madrids’ unique style of dance that transcends traditional categories. The Carlsbad couple is influenced by hip-hop dance, but they incorporate elements from contemporary dance, poppin’ and lockin’ (an old-school funk dance that involves holding a move for a few seconds before moving on) and even some hand gestures found in classical Indian dance. The music they use in the show ranges from hip-hop to modern folk.
“Beyond Babel” could put San Diego on the map when it comes to urban dance – it’s that good.
The show opened last month and several performances have sold out. The Madrids told me in July that if ticket sales go well, they’ll consider keeping the new performance venue they built open, and possibly invite other people to stage shows there, too.