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Culture Report: Art and the Anthropocene Along the Border

Bonita museum
The Bonita Museum and Cultural Center / Photo by Julia Dixon Evans

A new exhibition at the South Bay’s free [1] Bonita Museum and Cultural Center uses sculpture, photography, visual art, film and more to spotlight the changes to the natural landscape brought on by development, climate change and other human touches to ecosystems both local and global, but particularly in the San Diego-Tijuana border region.

In recent years, scientists proposed “Anthropocene [2]” as the name for a new epoch (a significant measure of time in the planet’s geological timeline) for the time after the Holocene, chronicling human impact. And the Bonita museum’s new exhibition, “Anthropocene,” uses the work of 19 artists to try to understand the ways the planet has been irrevocably changed.

“We’ve definitely broken our planet,” artist Diana Benavidez said. “It’s never going to be the same.” Benavidez’ work uses piñata as medium.

On a traditional five-point star piñata, Benavidez projects various images and video footage featuring maps, landscapes and the ways in which humanity has made its mark. “I have this image of several trucks driving to a beach and pouring sand into the beach,” she said. (Many San Diego beaches import sand [3].)

By striving for relatability (such as including recognizable imagery like Google Maps pictures), Benavidez said that the work is more accessible. “I didn’t want to focus on the end of the world,” she said.

Diana Benavidez
Diana Benavidez with her “Anthropocene” piñata installation / Photo courtesy of Diana Benavidez

Benavidez is a native San Diegan but was raised in both Tijuana and Chula Vista, and the border is an integral part of her life. She notes the differences between the natural landscapes on either side, and points out that there are very few untouched green spaces in Tijuana so those she does find — such as the estuary — she values.

Curator Wendy Wilson, the museum’s director, also spoke of the border’s particular significance in a changing world. “To me the border has always been a magical place,” Wilson said. “It is the edge of something exciting and a confluence of amazing diversity.”

“I feel inundated by the overwhelming ability of humans to affect the planet,” said Wilson. She wanted to find out how artists and scientists in San Diego were understanding and processing the human impact on geology and natural landscapes.

Also, the concept of a dwelling — and its infrastructure — forms one of the more significant ripple effects humanity has had on the geography and landscape. Wilson is fascinated by issues like affordable housing, and points to Stephanie Bedwell’s piece in the exhibition, “Bower,” which portrays “emotional structures,” and the fragility and emotional interface of people on the border seeking shelter.

Wilson has been with the Bonita museum for a year and a half, and has spent this time getting to know the art and culture community of the South Bay, as well as continuing work in the intersection of art and science.

“Every art and science exhibition I’ve been a part of has a completely different feel depending on what technology is being explored and what data is being examined,” Wilson said, and that trends and stories told by artists give us a glimpse into our future.

matthew Hebert
Matthew Hebert’s “Anthropocene” installation / Photo courtesy of Matthew Hebert

This summer, the Bonita Museum and Cultural Center showcased “Nuestra Frontera,” an exhibition chronicling the past 250 years in the area — a borderless region consisting of Kumeyaay open space, Alta California Span and Alta California Mexico.

“The ‘Anthropocene’ exhibition is another way to talk about our region in the present in a highly personal way,” said Wilson.

In addition to Benavidez, the exhibition also features the work of 19 artists, including Matthew Hebert, Sasha Koozel Reibstein, Eva Struble, the late May Y. Cheung Hoffman and more, including works in several languages.

sasha koozel reibstein
“Pray for Rain” by Sasha Koozel Reibstein / Photo courtesy of Sasha Koozel Reibstein

Anthropocene” opens Friday [4] and runs through Sept. 28. An opening reception on Friday evening will feature a poetry reading by Garda Govine.

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