Crossing Borders in Search of Self

By Erickson, Mary | Art Education, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Crossing Borders in Search of Self


Erickson, Mary, Art Education


The borders of the United States have shifted throughout the nation's history. Each time people inhabiting the "new"territories found themselves within the United States. Some of those people were members of different indigenous cultures. Others lived in settlements with roots traced back to Europe. In the case of Hispanics in the United States (and in Latin America), those roots reflect both the racial and cultural intermixtures of Spain and Portugal and numerous indigenous communities. Newcomers moved to the "new" territories as the borders of the United States shifted. Changes in borders both reinforce and challenge the inhabitants' sense of themselves, whether those inhabitants are firmly settled or newly arrived.

For over 200 years, local, territorial, state, and national educational policies have changed in response to the shifting borders of the United States. Politicians continue to debate not just what sort of education should be offered to increasingly diverse students, but also whether children of parents who have crossed borders illegally may even attend schools in the United States. Within this uncertain and politically charged environment, art educators make their decisions about what artworks to introduce to which students, why, and how.

An established practice of art education has been copying the work of one's predecessors (Efland, 1990; Lamme & Thompson, 1994). As teachers attempt to develop more multicultural curricula, borrowing, appropriating, or emulating the art of others has gained renewed acceptance. At the same time, as teachers ask students to learn from the art of increasingly diverse cultures, new concerns arise. As students borrow art ideas from cultures about which they may be quite uninformed, when does appropriating, or being inspired by, become ripping off, mimicking, trivializing, defaming, or even ridiculing?

Some contemporary artists transform or

" reCognize"' historical artworks and ideas in their art. This article examines transformations of one image as the foundation for proposing objectives teachers might use to guide students in borrowing traditional images from their own or others' cultures. When available, website addresses for reproductions of artworks appear among the references at the end of the article.

THE VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE

Border disputes between the United States and Mexico escalated into a full scale war in the mid-19th century. In 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe-- Hidalgo ended the war, delineated a new border between the United States and Mexico, and created a new culture. The people living in nearly half the territory that was Mexico before the war became Mexican Americans with the signing of the treaty. For over 41/ centuries artists in Mexico and the United States have used images of the Virgin of Guadalupe to express complex, evolving ideas of their spiritual, religious, cultural, historical, political, and racial identity.

For believers, the first image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was not made by an artist but was created miraculously (Lee, 1913). The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe begins in December 1531, ten years after the conquest of Mexico. The Virgin appeared to an Indian laborer named Juan Diego on a rocky hill near Mexico City. The hill was no ordinary place. It was where the shrine to Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess of Earth and Corn, had stood, before being destroyed by the Spanish conquerors. The Virgin instructed Juan Diego to tell his bishop to build a shrine for her. On December 12, to help Juan Diego convince the bishop, the Virgin caused rosas de Castilla (roses native to Castille) to grow on the hillside and instructed Juan Diego to collect them in his cloak. When the roses fell from Juan Diego's cloak in the presence of the bishop, an image of the Virgin appeared on that garment. The bishop did indeed build a shrine to the Virgin.

The events of December 1531 emerged from a complex mixture of spiritual, cultural, religious, historical, political, and racial differences not only between the Conquistador and Aztec cultures, but also between the Spanish and Moorish cultures. …

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