TANYA AGUIÑIGA (Los Angeles, CA) was awarded the inaugural Johnson Fellowship. Tanya’s work helps others understand the lived experience of the contested US-Mexico border, drawing from her own experience as U.S. born but growing up in Tijuana and crossing the border daily to go to school in the U.S.  Her participation in AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides) demonstrates her interests in the power of community and identity.  AMBOS is a series of artists’ projects created to “recontextualize borders and generate a localized hub for international collaboration.” Tanya recorded the experiences of those traveling across the border to the north every day through the use of a quipu, the Andean Pre-Columbian organizational system.  Commuters on the Mexican side were given two strands of thread and asked to anonymously tie them into a knot.  The strands represent the US and Mexico’s relationship to one another.  Each knot was tied to other knots.  The cumulative daily bundled knots were then organized into a large-scale quipu artwork and displayed on a billboard above the AMBOS storefront hub. 

With Fellowship resources, Aguiñiga completed the AMBOS border journey, traveling from El Paso to Brownsville, Texas in June 2018. Thus far, the Border Quipu has amassed more than 7,000 pieces of data on the response cards collected, which the artist describes as “the largest survey of border emotion to have been carried out by either country.” Facilitated by Americans for the Arts, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission is helping Aguiñiga to compile, analyze, make meaning, and explore ways to use this data to build awareness and perhaps even inform policymakers. 

Aguiñiga participated in multiple national platforms afforded by AFTA and the Johnson Fellowship to connect with Americans for the Arts’ constituents and staff.  She was artist-in-residence at Americans for the Arts’ annual convention in Denver and lent a strong artist’s voice to AFTA’s National Arts Policy Roundtable and Executive Leadership Forum in Sundance, Utah.  In addition, through AFTA’s strategic partnership with Independent Sector, Tanya along with Vijay Gupta, were featured artists at Independent Sector’s annual conference in Los Angeles.  Finally, Americans for the Arts staff benefitted from learning exchanges with the artist centered around a participatory felt-making experience and engaging in dialogue about her community-based work.