UArizona center partners with Nogales artists to tell the story of the border through art
The University of Arizona Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry has formed a binational partnership to support Nogales artists in visually interpreting the realities of being from and living on the U.S.-Mexico border.

By Angela Martinez, Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry
Sept. 27, 2022


a mosaic of a nopal, or prickly pear cactus
The partnership helped fund this mosaic, titled "Corazon de Copil," by Elena Vega. Courtesy of Elena Vega


Public perception of the U.S.-Mexico border often centers on militarization and security, but the lived experiences of border residents – in panaderias (bakeries) and curio (souvenir) shops, at cantinas and taco stands, in tire shops and classrooms – offers a more complex reality.

Located 60 miles from the border, the University of Arizona, a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, is well-positioned to amplify the human experiences and perspectives of those living on the U.S.-Mexico border.


a mural of a desert landscape
Tony Plak used the grant funding to create "Coyotes, Camino a la Libertad" on the wall of Casino Nogales. Courtesy of Tony Plak

To help do that, the university's Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry has collaborated with artists, scholars and communities on the Arizona-Sonora border through a binational grant program that has awarded over $40,000 to 20 Mexican artists since its launch in 2019. The Fronteridades program works in partnership with the cultural arts center Imfoculta and the Museo de Arte – both located in Nogales, Sonora – to select artists for the program.

Today, the artists' work – in the form of murals, sculptures, photography, street art, paintings and more –  can be found all over Nogales, Sonora, and can also be viewed on the Confluencenter website. 

"There are a multitude of perspectives from those living on the border, and we are grateful to support depicting the reality of border life through granting opportunities like these to its own communities," said Confluencenter director Javier Duran

The Confluencenter started the Fronteridades program, which is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in 2019 with the goal of creating a space where borders (fronteras) and humanities (humanidades) collide.


Tony Plak
Tony Plak Courtesy of Tony Plak

"Our team has been very intentional about building relationships with communities and giving them the resources and opportunities needed to allow for a bigger platform in which their voices can be heard," Duran said. "In this binational art program, our aim isn't directing artists with what to do; we are simply giving them the resources and platform to do so."

'A place where cultures meet'

One of the artists selected to receive funding from the Fronteridades program in 2021 is Antonio Lucero, also known as Tony Plak – a Nogales, Sonora, native known locally for his large-scale colorful desert landscapes. With the grant, he created a mural titled "Coyotes, Camino a la Libertad" on the wall of Casino Nogales, just a short walk past the border's Mariposa DeConcini port of entry.

"Through my artwork, I want people to know Ambos Nogales (Spanish for "both Nogales" and used to refer to the two cities of Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Arizona) is more than a border wall. It is a place where cultures meet; we are a makeup of colors, food, people and much more," Lucero said.


Elena Vega
Elena Vega Courtesy of Elena Vega

"This partnership (with the University of Arizona) brings together a space for thought and conversation between all community members and allows us to humanize ourselves," Lucero added. "Art feeds the soul, not only visually but it helps us to change the routine from day to day and adds to our spaces, giving us more colorful days and leaving seeds of happiness and encouragement for locals and tourists to see."

Another artist to receive a Fronteridades grant, Elena Vega, created a mosaic titled "Corazon de Copil."

"My project was named after a pre-Hispanic legend that speaks on the birth of the first nopal (prickly pear)," said Vega, who received the grant in 2020. "This story had a personal impact on me, and I wanted to translate that to the Ambos Nogales landscape. You can see there is the depiction of the border fence, the desert, and, below, the Santa Cruz River."

The Fronteridades binational art program supports the vital role and tradition of art and storytelling in Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico, Duran said. It also creates new opportunities for meaningful dialogue, learning, research and collaboration.

The Confluencenter will continue to collaborate with border artists for the next two years of the Fronteridades program. The program's next cohort of artists, which will be selected by the end of this year, will focus on the perspectives of women on the border.


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Media contact(s)

Angela Martinez

Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry