On Sunday, the same day the Trump administration announced a slew of hard-line immigration proposals, an unlikely scene took place: A colossal dining table straddled the border with Mexico, connecting people in two countries for one shared meal.
Neighbors shared the same food, the same water. Musicians from the same band positioned themselves on both sides of the fence, playing the same music. In the center of them all, atop the long table, was a massive image of the eyes of a “dreamer,” one on each side of the border, photographs show. Even from the air, the eyes looked sharp, piercing upward.
The “giant picnic” along the border in Tecate, Mexico, was the brainchild of an artist recognized around the world for creating art in the most unexpected of places. His real name is unknown — he identifies only as JR and often disguises himself in public with sunglasses and a fedora.
Here, “around the eye of a dreamer,” JR said in a tweet, “we forgot the wall for a minute.”
At one point during the picnic, JR stood on the Mexico side of the wall as he spoke to a federal agent on the other side. A video posted on Instagram captured the exchange.
“Will you share tea with me now?” JR asked the border agent. “Sure,” the agent responded, smiling. The two clinked their glasses as the agent said “Salud,” the Spanish word meaning health, and used for “cheers.”
JR later posted the video on Instagram, saying: “For the last 10 years, I have been working in conflict zone, jails, borders and I always found an « angel » that helped us make the impossible possible.”
“The picnic today was clearly forbidden, and yet it was not shut down,” JR added. “It’s always worth trying”
The artist made headlines last month with another installation on the border, an enormous scaffolding of the image of a 1-year-old boy, Kikito, peering over the wall. Kikito’s face has come to symbolize the innocence of a child caught unknowingly at the center of a national debate. The boy and his family live near the art installation on the border, but they cannot cross over to see the boy’s face from the U.S. side. While the structure stands in Mexico, it can best be seen from the United States.
Sunday was the last day of the Kikito installation, which was positioned right at the end of the large dining table. In photographs, it almost looks as if Kikito were overlooking the picnic, watching as his neighbors broke bread.
Leading up to the picnic, JR’s team members invited neighbors and others on social media to “come have lunch with us” on Sunday, in honor of the last day of the installation.
The setting is a common one in JR’s artwork: an exhibit in a divided community, among regular people in the midst of a politically heated environment. The artist describes his art as “pervasive,” spreading “uninvited on the buildings of the slums around Paris, on the walls in the Middle-East, on the broken bridges in Africa or the favelas in Brazil,” he writes on his Facebook page. “People who often live with the bare minimum discover something absolutely unnecessary.”
Some of these installations are illegal, but that hasn’t stopped him. In 2011, JR won the $100,000 TED prize, promising to “use art to turn the world inside out.” The artist also calls himself the owner of the “biggest art gallery in the world,” he writes on Facebook. The streets. The exhibits often consist of immense black-and-white photographs onto public spaces.
By nature of many of these projects, JR’s artwork is usually temporary. Sometimes, photographs are forcibly removed, other times they crack and tear naturally with their structures.
The nearly 70-foot image of Kikito lasted only a month, but photographs of the exhibit traveled around the world.
Speaking to the New Yorker last month, JR said the concept for the installation came to him in a dream. But it wasn’t until he came across baby Kikito that the idea was realized.
While scouting the area, JR and his team knocked on the door of a family in Tecate, he told the New Yorker. As they spoke with the family inside, a toddler kept looking at him from his crib. After he left the home, JR decided he had to go back. “That’s the kid. He looks like the kid of my dream,” he recounted.
He asked the boy’s mother for permission to photograph Kikito, he told the New Yorker.
“I think it would be much more powerful with your kid,” JR recounted telling her. “He lives here, he overlooks the wall every day, but he doesn’t know what it is.”
After JR showed the mother a rendering of the project, she said to the artist, “I hope in that image they won’t only see my kid. They will see us all.”
On Tuesday, JR posted a photograph of himself on Instagram holding the baby in front of the installation.
“Thank you baby Kikito,” he wrote, “looking forward to the day we can talk about this amazing adventure together.”
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