The History of the Future, in addition to being the title of an exhibition at the Santa Fe Art Institute, is also the name of a book that details the chronology of the classic television show Star Trek. The show, of course, was about the crew of a spaceship defending a federation of planets who exist in harmony in a post-money, post-racial unity. It featured blacks, Asians, aliens and even the Scottish as part of this quasi-utopian eventuality.
Whoopi Goldberg famously said that she always wanted to be on Star Trek because it was the only TV show that included black people in the future. But something must have happened south of the US border before that future of rainbow bliss ever occurred: Latinos never played a role in Star Trek, not even when the ship was docked for repairs.
But then we in the United States are doing our best at this very moment to make Latinos—especially Mexicans and Central Americans—disappear.
We put up a wall, man the border with 20,000 immigration troops plus a contingent of volunteer militia, spike the ground with sensors and fill the air with blimps, all in an effort to break the spirit of people who have already braved the more serious matter of the Sonoran Desert. When their presence must be tolerated because the economies of both the United States and Mexico are now dependant on this influx, because no one else will rebuild New Orleans, because the soft hubris of our wealth has confined labor to the business of “the other,” we try to keep them out of sight.
But as writer Charles Bowden describes in the catalog for The History of the Future—the exhibition—when he sees a couple of outnumbered and demoralized Mexicans surrounded by an armed tangle of border patrol agents, he has no doubt about who is ultimately going to win. Bowden notes that on the border, “the lies of our culture meet the facts on the ground, and the facts are people and animals and plants in motion in an effort to survive.”
These dynamics are captured by photographers Michael Berman and Julián Cardona, and their work comprises the exhibition. Cardona is a frantic and exploratory photographer, shooting from the hip and capturing everything from a ponderous gathering of Minutemen to the pained mothers of murdered and disappeared souls to the simple vendor stalls arranged in Sonora to sell backpacks and shoes to those planning to make the deadly hike through the desert. Berman is more transfixed by the landscape, but the sheer physical reality of shifting and remarkable geography that delineates la frontera.
Berman prints his images in carbon pigment on William Turner Hahnemuhle paper—a toothy, rumbling surface that lends the images an elusive patterning and an eerie, distant light that reveals his exposures as a series of dreamlike flashes.
Curator Nancy Sutor was inspired by the University of Texas Press series of books in which Bowden penned text for images by both Cardona and Berman. She hit upon the idea of exhibiting Berman and Cardona side-by-side, and the Lannan Foundation agreed to support the project. The result is the clean, comfortable gallery space at Santa Fe Art Institute, expertly appointed with powerful documentary images illustrating the full spectrum—from mundane to epic—of physical immigration into the United States. A DVD and an excellent free catalog accompany the exhibition.
History of the Future is most remarkable for its matter-of-factness. These simple documentary works profess a radical, profound indictment of current politics and social dynamics, but never with a labored breath or the cumbersome delivery of “political art.” It is simply the record of what will eventually be. And that’s a powerful perspective.