Last week at SMOCA, author Charles Bowden and artist Alice Leora Briggs gave a lecture in conjunction with the new exhibition “Re-Imagining the West” in which they have a collaborative piece in. Charles Bowden is a renowned author with stories published in major publications such as Harpers Magazine, New York Times, Esquire, and Aperture. Alice Leora Briggs is a master of the elementary skill of carving into wood blocks, but her pieces are anything but simple. She combines rather morbid subject matters with a style of detailed etching that reminds me of the classical drawings of Rembrandt.
Bowden, has been interested in the extreme violence and corruption of Juarez, Mexico, as well as the effects this war zone has on our nations surrounding states, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona for quite a while. He writes from first hand experience and to tell you the truth, every single sentence I have read of his work, is just completely numbing. That’s the only word I can come up with. They just make me terrified and numb.
Their collaboration consist of Bowden’s horrifying stories, placed in context to Brigg’s dark etchings. When placed next to each other, both pieces are instantly intensified. I wish I could find you an example but unfortunately the depth of the internet fails me today, as I can’t find one single example of their work together, where you can actually read the words Bowden has written. I suggest you go out and purchase “Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez”, I promise it will be an eye-opening read.
Either way, I wanted to talk a little about my experience as a whole at this lecture. As the curator intern, I got a little behind the scenes action, which means I got to interact with Charles Bowden more then just the book signing he did for the public. Now let me state, that before this night, this man was not even remotely on my radar. I had seen his piece in the show, and it caught my eye just as much as the
piece next to it (Luis Jimenez, El Buen Pastor (The Good Shepherd) which tells the story of a Hispanic shepherd getting gunned down, because according to protocol he fit the criteria of a drug smuggler, but besides that nothing. My first reaction of these two works was terror, obviously. They made me think about the reality of life, more then I ever really like too, to be completely honest. I live in a bubble, a place where I like to think nothing truly terrible could ever happen. Guns scare me, drugs scare me, the capabilities of human cruelness.. TERRIFIES me. Those things don’t exist in my day to day. They just don’t. Which as Bowden pointed out during his lecture, is a terribly ignorant and selfish way to live. Because even though they don’t exist for ME, this IS the way of life elsewhere, especially in Juarez, a place that my own brother can see from the window of his apartment. So as much as I would like to drown out these types of stories, I shouldn’t.. I can’t.
So there I am, standing in front of this man, who is surprisingly old, but theres something about his face that just looks so kind, that immediately reminds me of my grandfather. My boss introduces me “Charles, this is Jacque, my intern. I thought you might find it interesting that her brother is in the military and is stationed in El Paso, right?” She turns to me, and I am already caught off balance because of two things. One: the introduction, it has been nearly since high school that I have been introduced with a direct connection to my older brother. and Two: the look on Charles Bowden’s face was not the look of respect I usually get when people find out my brother is serving our country. Rather the look was peculiar, a recognizable combination of intrigue, curiosity… and disgust. This gets awkward quick, as my boss, and the two other people standing there recognize the tension and scurry away pretending other urgent things were going on, leaving me alone with this man, who clearly finds my brother’s position repulsive. “Yes, my brother is a 1st LT MP, who has been stationed in El Paso for the past year.” He makes some less tensioned small talk about the heat of the city, then cuts to chase. He proceeds to tell me a story of a conversation with a guy in Mexico who was “in the know” who basically told him that just about everything involving officials handling Mexico and the border of El Paso, were corrupt. Very corrupt. (I will admit the actual story was a lot more detailed and included violent and distasteful additions that I rather not openly talk about here) But the bottom line is CORRUPT. I told him, politely of course, that though I know nothing of the situation and can not argue for or against either sides, that I could say this. That my brother, though not perfect himself, is the last person in the entire world to tolerate anything that is not just or does not fit his job title in the Army, which to me all comes down to one word: Honor. He looks at me, a bit differently, maybe with some approval. I wasn’t sure.
But it felt strange having to defend my brother. And it wasn’t even like this man was unAmerican, that wasn’t it at all. It simply seemed that he, (with good reason, due to all the haunting things he has seen) seemed to have lost all faith in who’s making the decisions. And I don’t blame him. But it made me really just think about how we, as Americans, have to have an unwavering faith that the people in charge are handling it. and handling it justly and compassionately, and doing what we wish we could by ourselves. After his lecture, I was so fired up, so inspired, and angry, and all I wanted to do was march into the capitol building and demand that they help all these innocent people in Juarez suffering and scared. But I can’t and I won’t.