Estamos Buscando A

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Estamos Buscando A is a multi-faceted series that explores and contemplates the migrant experience in Mexico along the U.S. – Mexico border through various practices, including site-specific public art installation, a gallery installation as well as a photobook guide.

Between 2001 and 2004, the series started as a site-specific, public art installation with intimate photographic portraits of migrants waiting to cross. The portraits were printed on large-scale steel plates which were then installed on the border wall at the locations where the photographs had been made in Tijuana between the Pacific Ocean and the San Ysidro Port of Entry. By permanently affixing the steel plate photographs to the border wall in Mexico, the retablos served not only as signs of respect and as a homage to those photographed, but also as spiritual signs for other migrants who would come upon them while making their own enduring journeys.  A total of eleven plates were installed at five locations.

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Estamos Buscando A - Border Wall Installation

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As the number of migrants attempting to cross rose significantly in the mid-2000’s, the series was expanded upon into the Sonoran Desert along the border with Arizona as well as along the Rio Grande.  The same collaborative process was used, however, as printing on steel with such a larger volume of photographs was no longer feasible, the entire series of negatives was scanned and digitally printed with archival inkjet pigments on aluminum as a reference to the look of the original site-specific steel plates.

In 2006, sections of the original border wall that had been constructed in the mid-1990’s were salvaged with the demolition and rebuilding of the wall at Friendship Park / El Parque de la Amistad at Border Field State Park in San Ysidro.

These salvaged sections of the border wall have since been adapted for a large scale gallery installation, including the constructing of a 10 foot high x 64 foot long border wall, including dirt and rocks, ephemeral objects and aluminum-plate photographic retablos of portraits of migrants and the border landscape.

Selections of the site-specific works and the gallery installation have been exhibited at the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson, Arizona (2011), the Mesa College Art Gallery in San Diego, California (2013), California and the New Mexico University Art Gallery in Las Cruces, New Mexico (2015).

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Estamos Buscando A – Book

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In 2016, Estamos Buscando A was self-published as a photobook guide, which navigates a personal exploration into the migrant experience along the U.S. – Mexico border region with a series of intimate portraits, landscape photographs, illustrations, maps, advisories and personal narratives. The book was designed to reference the migrant safety guides that are given to migrants by Grupos Beta and the Instituto Nacional de Migración of the Mexican government.

Estamos Buscando A was shortlisted and a runner-up for the 2016 Paris Photo – Aperture Foundation First PhotoBook Award, and was included on the New York Times – The Best Photo Books of 2016 as well as The Best Books of 2016 by Ivorypress and the Humble Arts Foundation – the 17 Best Socially Concerned Photobooks of 2016.

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Related Materials for Download

Statement

Site-Specific Installation Checklist

Gallery Installation Checklist

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Selected Press

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Under the Green Moon with Paul Turounet, featured in Artbound article and on KCET-TV | Los Angeles

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Unlike the migrants, he stayed on the Sonoran side of the international line. His mission was to photograph the travelers on one of the most important days of their lives—the day they would leave their country and cross into el Norte.

Turounet gave them small Polaroid portraits as a memento. For himself—and for us—he made large black-and-white pigment photos on gleaming aluminum. These wrenching, gorgeous images, tacked to a grim swath of the real border wall salvaged from San Diego, are a highlight of The Border Project, the sprawling exhibition now at the University of Arizona Museum of Art.

– from the exhibiton review, Despite the Hardships, by Margaret Regan, Tucson Weekly

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Turounet works in multiple genres, including video and installation. He was easily the star of the UA Museum of Art’s Border Project show last winter. There, his metallic plates, printed with portraits of migrants, were hammered to a fragment of border wall. Glowing in the light, they looked like religious retablos.

Turounet’s works in the Pima show are from the same series, Estamos Buscando A/We’re Looking For, but this time, he gives us a glimpse of how the photos look in situ—nailed to the real wall.

An accompanying video and text recount that the artist traveled by motorcycle to the notorious Smuggler’s Gulch outside of Tijuana, a no-man’s land of crumbling canyons and treeless hills sliced clean through by the border wall.

He brought with him portraits he had already made of migrant faces, printed on large steel plates. When he came upon a migrant camp, where men were sheltering underneath blankets strung to the wall, he knew he had found the right spot. With the help of a camper, he drilled holes into the wall’s south side and hung the luminous artworks there for future migrants to see.

The artist returned later to see how the photos fared; he found, not surprisingly, that the desert is as dangerous for photos as it is for humans. Left out in the sun, battered by heat and sand, the migrant faces eroded into rust.

– from the exhibition review, The Border Journey, by Margaret Regan, Tucson Weekly

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“Estamos Buscando A” (“We’re Looking For”) is an account of the human cost of the various impediments — walls, fences and natural features — along the Mexico-United States border. In this sense, it is similar to Misrach’s “Border Cantos.” But Turounet’s little book shows things largely from the Mexican side, mostly in Sonora, which borders Arizona. It features a number of portraits of migrants or would-be migrants and written accounts of what the photographer himself saw over many years of studying their crossings. The book, with text in Spanish and English, is ingeniously put together in the form of a guidebook, the kind of thing an NGO or government might issue to people thinking of walking across. The text warns them not to do it, counseling them, instead, to seek legal means of entry. But, wise to human obstinacy and desperation, it also offers them advice on how to proceed if they must, whom to avoid, how to prevent heat stroke and so on. Alongside Turounet’s photographs are a number of illustrations by Tim Schafer. It all makes for an unforgettable act of witness in a compact package.

– from the book review, The Best Photo Books of 2016, by Teju Cole, New York Times

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