Tierra Brava

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With the support of a Fulbright Fellowship in 1997 and drawing inspiration from the pulp comic of the same name, Tierra Brava traverses a personal psychological space within the color of a place mired in contradictions;  the U.S. – Mexico border. It is a place that is in a constant search for its own sense of identity, juggling the traditions of culture and history of the interior with the pleasures and promises of prosperity and a better life of its northern neighbor. It is not Mexico and not the United States, but rather something and somewhere in-between.

Tierra Brava has recently been exhibited at the O’Sullivan Art Gallery at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, (2014) and the University of Texas Art Gallery in Brownsville, Texas (2013). An earlier variation of the series, entitled Un Extraño Aquí – A Stranger Here, was exhibited at Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT), in Tijuana, Mexico (1998) and the Museo de Arte El Chamizal, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico (1998).

The series is exhibition-ready for shipment in four crates and includes 49 photographs in 17 x 21 x 1-1/2 inch (or versa) white frames along with ephemeral materials. The exhibition requires a minimum of 104 linear feet of wall space.

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In 2013, an artist book was designed and self published to reference the FM-3 Immigration Visa issued by Mexico, which I was required to carry during my travels in Mexico in support of my Fulbright Fellowship. There are 49 – 4 x 6 inch chromogenic prints tipped-in along with various ephemeral materials, including a three-page letter and a loose, personal photograph as well as a map charting my journey through Mexico with the locations of the photographs in the book.

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Related Materials for Download

Statement

Installation Checklist

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Paul Turounet - Mexico FM-3 Visa

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Leaving the United States across the Rio Bravo, a man crosses a fenced walkway that leads into Mexico.  His suspicious eyes simultaneously stare off in two directions – at those in his path and straight ahead to the life he is going back to.

Once across this line of dirt and water, a series of storefronts, marketplaces, buildings and street scenes feature the contrasting elements of Mexican life: a street vendors’ grill of elotes – corn on the cob, appears in the forefront while a shadowy figure lurks in the background; smiling dentures are locked in a display case with a handmade sign proclaiming “free estimates.” In a large mercado, the picture of a bright-eyed baby is prominently displayed above jars of salsa, and who, upon closer examination, is urinating with a smile on his face.

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Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, 1996

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Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, 1998

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Along the way, complex relationships of men, women and families reveal their day-to-day joys and struggles.  A bikini-clad woman on a billboard tempts us to buy ice-cold beer, but not with her eyes. In a bar lit green, white and red, a man gently lights a cigarette for a woman as she leans in.  It is just a matter of time before love is graffiti above a seat-less toilet in a peach-colored hotel bathroom.  Babies suckle at their mother’s breast and are held by their fathers at a christening. Little boys smile as they play with guns, mimicking a scene from a Hollywood film.  The shadow of a finger gun takes aim at a woman sitting with her child; the sadness in her eyes reveals her plight.

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Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, 1997

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Hidalgo San Antonio, Durango, Mexico, 1998

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While there are moments of hope on La Frontera – the glow of warm morning light coming through a bedroom window; a beautiful young girl in a pink dress – hardship, violence and death are always near: a little boy entangled by a spider-web of steel rebar sleeps on the sidewalk; a bloodied bull lies in the back of a pickup truck, slain by a man with the U.S. flag on his t-shirt; a dead coyote hangs on a barbed-wire fence marking the border – a sign warning migrants not to cross.  An anti-drug enforcement soldier in black fatigues clutches a grenade launcher, while strays dogs lay peacefully beside him.  It looks like a scene a scene from the Gulf and Iraq Wars, but rather it is Playa Baghdad, where the border dissolves into the Gulf of Mexico.

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Playa Bagdad, Tamaulipas, Mexico, 1998

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And in this place, the possibilities of another life are not far away as a statuesque man naked in his underwear, looks longingly across a filthy river. But the journey ends here.  A young man carries the dreams of many on his shoulders with “America” emblazoned on the back of his shaven head as he stares at a burning landscape: tierra brava.

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Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, 1998

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Installation

O’Sullivan Art Gallery at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, 2014

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