A flowing river can also be a physique bearing witness. Over the previous 5 years, Zoe Leonard has adopted a river with two names: Río Bravo and Rio Grande, photographed over a stretch of 1,900 miles alongside the border of the US and Mexico. The collection additionally has two names, “Al río / To the River,” and contains over 5 hundred black-and-white silver gelatin prints and roughly fifty colour C-prints. A delicate exploration of the ideology of Manifest Future that captivated early American photographers—the concept nature’s splendor was created by God for white American males—these photos invite us to think about the pure panorama’s entanglement with human rights violations.
Viewers to this present initially see forty close-ups of the water’s floor (Prologue, 2017/2022). Nuances multiply from one shot to the subsequent, the churning liquid’s thick folds, deep whirlpools, and cortical swirls selecting up delicate gradations of yellow, brown, blue, and bubbles of white. These poetic abstractions are contrasted elsewhere with stark reminders of the area’s policed actuality. Silver gelatin images, beautiful of their wealthy end, painting bridges, fences, a white obelisk marking boundaries to patrol vehicles, a desolate view over the levee. In Untitled 2020/2022, the thick black rails of a fence double as Minimalist sculptures, whereas in On the Gateway to the Americas Bridge, Laredo, 2019/2022, daring horizontals of concrete and razor wire carve the composition right into a layered dermis of estrangement. Begun at a time when the Mexico–US border wall was central to Trump’s racist marketing campaign for re-election, Leonard’s collection charts geographical and sociopolitical time concurrently in her portrait of a borderlands riven with political stress, elevating layered questions on which our bodies are allowed to maneuver freely amid such barbed magnificence.