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  • Portable Borders: Performance Art and Politics on the US Frontera since 1984 by Ila Nicole Sheren
  • Camilla Fojas
Portable Borders: Performance Art and Politics on the US Frontera since 1984. By Ila Nicole Sheren. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. ix + 175 pp. Figures, notes, bibliography, index. $55.00 cloth.

Ila Nicole Sheren draws the title for her work, Portable Borders: Performance Art and Politics on the US Frontera since 1984, from a phrase that circulates among artists and critics, from Guillermo Gómez Peña to Claire F. Fox, to explore the idea of the mobility and portability of the border. What she calls a “border problematic” is a strategy for negotiating the vexed issues that arise from what Walter D. Mignolo describes as “border thinking” or a way of thinking with and along the border and beyond and outside it, too.

Sheren combines performance art and other forms of visual culture produced in relation to the United States–Mexico border with art that reflects on other international borders. She argues that the border is a performed space, not just a space of performance, and is thus a space of negotiation that cannot be reduced to its geographical location; she does so without effacing the historical and economic particularities of the region. The border is a productive zone through which artists explore the constitution of national and local identity at a time of the purported diminishment of the importance of national boundaries in globalization. She argues, against Hardt and Negri’s discussion of “empire,” that if the nation, in their analysis, is a mere “instrument” of global empire, then it stands to reason that the reassertion of borders would be a strategy for asserting lost state power. And the performance artists of Portable Borders engage the troubled dynamic of local and global flows of culture and power.

Sheren’s work offers a unique proposition within border studies through the reexamination of the relationship between art and politics, in particular in terms of the role of art in social transformation. This book draws on a rich history of politically engaged art along the border, art that takes the physical zone as a point of departure, that examines borders and symbolic entities arising from this zone, and that addresses these questions globally as they relate to other international boundaries.

In this study of border art, Sheren engages the work of Venezuelan artist Javier Téllez, the Border Art Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo, Grupo Proceso Pentágono, Guillermo Gómez Peña, Coco Fusco, David Avalos, La Pocha Nostra, along with artists such as Palestinian Mona Hatoum and Indian artist Amar [End Page 329] Kanwar, all of whom explore conceptual and actual borders. Portable Borders imagines a different future for border cultures and diverse strategies for addressing border problematics related to economic inequalities and social incongruities drawn across national lines, particularly for a major point of reference for border studies, the US-Mexico divide, but with regard to other global borders.

Camilla Fojas
Department of Latin Americana and Latino Studies DePaul University


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