In a moment of pure and unexpected joy, three hot pink see-saws appeared at the steel border fence separating the U.S. and Mexico on Sunday 28 July.
The installation was the brainchild of Ronald Rael, professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley and Virginia San Fratello, associate professor of design, San José State University.
They developed the idea ten years ago while completing architectural work near the border following the passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. It was at that time they began to develop counterproposals for the border wall “as a way of rethinking what the border is”. “We wanted to create scenarios that would celebrate togetherness. And also highlight the ridiculousness of the border wall”, San Fratello explained.
In a video posted on Instagram and liked by hundreds of thousands of people, children and adults on both sides of the fence in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico can be seen playing on the see-saws. Made of lightweight steel, the see-saws were designed to be installed quickly and easily using the fence itself as a fulcrum. The Instagram video is captioned by Rael, who described it as “an event filled with joy, excitement and togetherness at the border wall”.
The see-saws were in use for approximately 30 minutes before they were removed. A statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that U.S. Border Patrol agents encountered a group of university staff playing with residents of Mexico on the see-saws. They had not sought permission to install them and left without incident.
The installation comes at volatile time in the history of U.S.-Mexico relations as President Donald Trump has vowed to “build a wall” between the two countries. Although the wall has yet to be constructed, tensions are running high. U.S. authorities have driven a wedge between the two countries as they attempt to deter migrants from crossing the border into the U.S. by detaining them in over-crowded facilities, separating children from their parents and firing tear-gas on them.
Other artists have used the border fence as a site for creative protest. Chim Pom, a Japanese art collective created a tree house in Tijuana in 2017 with “USA Visitor Centre” printed on one side. There are more projects planned too including a pastel pink reinterpretation of Trump’s border wall designed by Mexican architectural practice, Estudio 3.14. The proposal is an homage to 20th century Mexican architect Luis Barragán.
San Fratello said she and Rael hoped people would see their see-saw moment as an “act of joy and happiness and positivity and togetherness… we’re all the same, on both sides of the fence”.