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Chim↑Pom © Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo
Chim↑Pom © Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo
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Japanese Art Collective Question Freedom in Tijuana

Picture of Lauren Cocking
Northern England Writer
Updated: 23 February 2017

The Mexico-US Border wall has long been a bone of contention and a political plaything in the US war on illegal immigration. But now one Japanese guerrilla art collective, Chim Pom, are turning it into an artistic battleground in which they question the US immigration policy and invite us to ask what is liberty really.

Chim Pom, a six-person strong art collective from Japan, erected their so-called USA Visitor Center in Tijuana, one of the most well-known Mexico-US border towns, in July 2016. A ramshackle treehouse at first glance, this visitor center is actually littered with provocative and emblematically American artifacts such as a coyote skin, a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and, most amusingly, a five dollar bill emblazoned with the face of Donald Trump.

View of U.S.A. Visitor Center built in the backyard of a family’s house along the border in Colonia Libertad, Tijuana | © Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN­TO Production, Tokyo photo by Osamu Matsuda

View of USA Visitor Center built in the backyard of a family’s house along the border in Colonia Libertad, Tijuana | © Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo (photo by Osamu Matsuda)

However, this 2016 piece is now even more important than ever before, as it acts as a viewing point for some of their latest guerrilla artworks which are inextricably linked to the ideas of liberty, freedom and immigration explored through the USA Visitor Center.

The guerrilla pieces in question are 2017’s “The Grounds” and “LIBERTAD,” which consist of an artwork deep underground on the Mexican side of the wall and a similar piece on the US side of the wall, featuring a hole, cross and shovel made from plastic. Intended to work together, to give the impression of a tunnel burrowing under the border wall, these provocative paired pieces also set out to question the arbitrariness of borders and the no-man’s land that effectively exists between Mexico and the US.

LIBERTAD installed on the no-man’s land between the Mexican and American wall, consists of a cross labeled “LIBERTAD,” a hole, and a shovel made from plastic, symbolizing the grave for the idea of liberty on American land | © Chim↑Pom

LIBERTAD installed on the no-man’s land between the Mexican and American wall, consists of a cross labeled “LIBERTAD,” a hole, and a shovel made from plastic, symbolizing the grave for the idea of liberty on American land | © Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo

At the same time, the clear insinuation that these two pieces are not connected leads us to consider the division between them, evoking images of the death of liberty, connection and freedom. This is reinforced by the use of a cross, which honors those who’ve lost their lives attempting a border crossing, and ultimately positions “LIBERTAD” as a representation of the death of liberty on US soil.

Chim↑Pom, forming Team Libertad with the local residents and children, installed an object comprised of a hole, a cross labeled “Libertad” and a shovel all made of plastic to pair up with The Grounds | © Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN­TO Production, Tokyo

Chim↑Pom, forming Team Libertad with the local residents and children, installed an object comprised of a hole, a cross labeled “LIBERTAD” and a shovel all made of plastic to pair up with “The Grounds” | © Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo

This isn’t the first time Chim Pom have dealt with border and immigration issues either. The Mexico-US border has been of particular interest to them since 2014, with the piece “COYOTE.” Inspired by the denial of a US visa for one of their members, Ellie, they went on to conclude the trilogy of pieces that all focus on the contradictions surrounding the concept of liberty in the US lexicon with 2016’s USA Visitor Center and 2017’s “LIBERTAD/The Grounds.”

Chim↑Pom, forming Team Libertad with the local residents and children, installed an object comprised of a hole, a cross labeled “Libertad” and a shovel all made of plastic to pair up with The Grounds | © Chim↑Pom

Chim↑Pom, forming Team Libertad with the local residents and children, installed an object comprised of a hole, a cross labeled “LIBERTAD” and a shovel all made of plastic to pair up with “The Grounds” | © Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo

Long the site of artistic expression, including the recent repositioning of the border by artists ERRE and David Taylor, the Mexico-US border looks set to continue provoking artistic expression and political outrage for a while to come.

LIBERTAD installed on the no-man’s land between the Mexican and American wall, consists of a cross labeled “LIBERTAD,” a hole, and a shovel made from plastic, symbolizing the grave for the idea of liberty on American land | © Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN­TO Production, Tokyo

“LIBERTAD” installed on the no-man’s land between the Mexican and American wall, consists of a cross labeled “LIBERTAD,” a hole, and a shovel made from plastic, symbolizing the grave for the idea of liberty on American land | © Courtesy of Chim↑Pom Studio and MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo