In early September, French street artist JR created a massive art installation on the Mexican side of the US border wall. This artwork about immigration shows a child peering over the fence, looking across into the United States. Located in the Mexican city of Tecate, about one hour southeast of San Diego, the photograph shows Kikito, a child the artist met while scouting the location for his impressive installation.
The installation has struck a chord since JR announced it without warning on his Instagram account. He later opened up to The New Yorker about his vision for the project. “Each time I’ve seen walls that have caught my attention, or that I’ve heard about a lot in the media, they would stick in my mind. I would even dream about it. When Trump started to talk a lot about a wall along the Mexican border, one day I woke up and I saw a kid looking over the wall. I was wondering, What is this kid thinking? What would any kid think? We know that a one-year-old doesn’t have a political vision, or any political point of view. He doesn’t see walls as we see them.”
It took five months of location scouting to find the perfect site by knocking on doors—which is how he met Kikito's family—and asking about how accessible the wall was. Soon after JR posted the first photo of the artwork, he also announced the location. Suddenly, this border location was a pilgrimage site, with people gathering on both sides to meet, mingle, and take photographs.
To celebrate the end of the temporary installation, JR and curator Pedro Alonzo—who helped organize the project—held a picnic on both sides of the fence. On October 8, 2017, a large wooden table stretched from the United States to Mexico, with a pair of JR's famous eyes on top. As people gathered for the potluck lunch, a band played festive music. Half the members stood on American soil, half on Mexican soil, but they all played the same music.
It was a fitting end of a project that turned a forgotten place into a point of discussion. Kikito's presence looking over the fence put a touch of humanity to the immigration debate, asking people to engage in a way they otherwise would not have, imploring them to reach across and remember the people that live just on the other side. Based on the photographs during the installation period and the picnic, JR's hope to spur communication became a reality.
“What I’m hoping the most is not only that people will see the photo but that they’ll decide to go there by themselves. They’ll talk to Border Patrol, they’ll talk to people on the other side who they can see through the fence. That experience is intimate to each person who will see the piece. I won’t even hear about it.”