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Artist’s New Exhibit Brings Hope to the Border Crisis

For 40 days in 2019, Tauber walked along the border wall from the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego to the Otay Mesa Detention Center and back again. During these seven-mile round-trip pilgrimages, he spoke with people from all walks of life, ages and genders while playing catch along the border wall.
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April 7, 2022
Courtesy of ArtCenter College of Design

Art, along with conversation, can inspire change, generate hope and move people to take action.

Therein lies the impetus behind artist and activist Joel Tauber’s latest endeavor, “Border-Ball,” an exhibition at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., inspired by Tauber’s award-winning film of the same name.

For 40 days in 2019, Tauber walked along the border wall from the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego to the Otay Mesa Detention Center and back again. During these seven-mile round-trip pilgrimages, he spoke with people from all walks of life, ages and genders while playing catch along the border wall. Tauber spoke with border patrol officers, guards, detainees with papers and undocumented people.

Courtesy of ArtCenter College of Design

With this “community,” Tauber, wearing a custom-made vintage baseball uniform and backpack in blue, white and red, talked about immigration, compassion, imprisonment and the shared culture of baseball.

“One of the things that informs my work as an artist, but also as a professor, is the idea of chavruta: the dialogue, people talking.” – Joel Tauber

“One of the things that informs my work as an artist, but also as a professor, is the idea of chavruta: the dialogue, people talking,” said Tauber. “In some weird way, playing catch is like that too. It’s this give and take interaction, where we’re figuring things out together. We’re equals.”

Like the walk – and like Tauber – the exhibit goes all-in on the baseball theme, from the baseball-diamond shaped installation through portraits of the interviewees printed to look like baseball cards. There are video interviews with people Tauber met on his journey, photographs and ephemera of the pilgrimage and an interactive space that gives visitors an opportunity to play catch and add their own stories.

Tauber, who received his MFA from ArtCenter, comes from a long line of rabbis. He spent 12 years in yeshiva before he started making art, earning a Bachelor of Arts in art history and sculpture from Yale University. He lives and works in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he is an associate professor of art at Wake Forest University. 

“I remember my teacher Ron Jones talking about how art can facilitate change, and it just really sat with me,” Tauber said. “I felt like art would be a way for me to use my skills and to try to do some good.”

“Border-Ball” explores the meaning of the border wall and how it impacts the human race psychologically, ethically and spiritually. 

Tauber said he feels this project combined his rabbinical roots and his art. 

“A rabbi tries to create conversation,” Tauber said. “I’m trying to do it in a poetic way, accentuating my own quirkiness, and through humor and also conceptual rigor.” 

He hopes his work will open hearts and minds, and also raise questions.

“This installation invites a very active form of participation,” Tauber said. “Hopefully, [it] will create more conversation – different kinds of conversation–and maybe some change.”

“Border-Ball” was developed in part through Tauber’s interpretation of tikkun olam, healing the world. 

“I was really troubled with all the racist rhetoric that was ramping up, and the locking up of people in the detention centers,” he said. 

According to Tauber, many of them don’t have any criminal records. There’s forced labor, physical abuse, sexual abuse and death happening in these centers. The artist remembered the stories from his grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors. 

“As opposed to just sitting down and not doing anything, I decided, okay, what can I do as an artist, as a filmmaker, as a citizen who tries to be an activist?”

Christina Valentine, associate director, ArtCenter Galleries, and curator of exhibitions, has been aware of Tauber’s work since they were in grad school together at ArtCenter. During his border walk, he sent out an invitation for people to walk with him, and Valentine took the opportunity. 

“I wanted to experience it,” she said. “Doing the walk with him and having a conversation about the issues … was such an eye-opening experience.”

Valentine said she felt like they needed to have an exhibition of this piece. “Joel’s entire practice is really fascinating to me, because [with] every project he’s done, there’s an element of hope.”

“Border-Ball” runs at the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery at ArtCenter through June 4. Learn more: ArtCenter.edu/borderball.

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