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Weekly reads from CJR for July 22, 2021

Jack Herrera on an artist’s journalism

A few years ago, Jack Herrera went on a reporting trip to Tijuana, where he interviewed asylum seekers for an American outlet. The article was fine, but he felt a pang of unease—journalism can often feel like a process of extraction, and there were certain things he hadn’t been able to convey in his dispatch. Back home, in San Francisco, he went to a museum to clear his head. There, he found Río Bravo Crossing, an installation by the artist Minerva Cuevas. The piece—developed from scholarly research, conversations with locals, and dips into the river—commented on the history of migration across the United States–Mexico border, using images, found objects, and sound. Herrera was moved. “Where the press tends to make complicated truths simple, Cuevas is inclined toward abstraction and uncertainty,” he observed. Rather than standing on the periphery, Cuevas had brought herself “to a place of compassion and understanding in order to create.”

Cuevas engages in journalistic practice—extensive reading, interviews—then produces work on a grand scale. As a young art school dropout in Mexico City, she founded a mock corporation to spoof the multinationals upending her country; she went down to the subway, cleaned, and distributed free tickets to strangers. She has hijacked an amusement park ride, planted barcodes in grocery aisles, and put up billboards. Often, people looking at Cuevas’s work don’t realize they’re seeing an art piece. “She meets her audience where they are, wherever that may be,” Herrera writes. The result is instructive to any reporter frustrated by a story failing to gain traction. “Confined to exposition and reflection, while competing against misinformation and distraction, we too often fail to reach people,” he argues. “Cuevas has worked through this problem as an artist by breaking form and convention; the physical presence of her projects eludes the pitfall of so much news coverage: unlike dour headlines, her interventions are impossible to ignore.” —Betsy Morais, managing editor

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