Photo: Ryan Schude
26th Heinz Awards - 2021
Tanya Aguiñiga receives the Heinz Award for the Arts for her dynamic visual artworks that blend contemporary craft, sculpture and performance to address issues of migration, gender and identity.
Born in San Diego and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, Ms. Aguiñiga’s work draws on her life experience as a binational citizen, who as a child crossed the border daily from Tijuana to San Diego to attend school. Ms. Aguiñiga’s work speaks of the artist’s experience of her divided identity and aspires to tell the larger and often invisible stories of the transnational community.
Often incorporating cotton, wool and other textiles, Ms. Aguiñiga blends traditional Indigenous weaving practices and materials and contemporary design into elaborate and colorful works that hang on walls, form immersive performance installations, incorporate film and more. In 2016, Ms. Aguiñiga created AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides), an ongoing series that provides a platform for binational artists. Noted works include AMBOS: Border Quipu/Quipu Fronterizo, which captures reflections gathered from interviews with thousands of individuals crossing the border between the United States and Mexico. Travelers were also asked to tie a knot between pieces of fabric — the knotted fabrics reminiscent of quipu, an Incan method for recording information that included variously colored threads knotted in different ways — as a documentation of their crossing, together creating a large, colorful cascading installation.
In creating Metabolizing the Border (2020), a reflection and reckoning with the pain experienced by those seeking to cross the border wall, Ms. Aguiñiga fabricated an intricate bodysuit that has remnant pieces of the wall incorporated into brittle, clear blown-glass wearables designed to shatter and break. A video recording of her wearing the suit while walking along the familiar portion of the wall that extends into the Pacific Ocean symbolizes the struggle of the migrant experience. Her newest work will install clay shrines along the U.S./Mexico border fence to honor lives lost, pray for safe passage and remember loved ones separated by the wall.
Ms. Aguiñiga’s artwork is exhibited extensively across the United States in museums, cultural centers and galleries, where she often engages with community members as an extension of her shows.