When we arrived at La Buena Estrella, an independent space in San Rafael, one of the first things Olivia Vivanco said to us was that “the images are not in narrative order.” She then explained each image to us, in no particular order, in great detail. An image of empty bunks with foam mats piled against a while like one of the massive but drooping forms of Nairy Baghramian came from a temporary migrant center—the only one, Vivanco explained, that not only has separate quarters for men and women, but also separate quarters for queer people. Another image, a man standing in front of a cellphone shop, was X, who had started not only that cellphone shop but was about to open two others, exemplifying the hard-working and can-do spirit of the Haitian community in Tijuana; an adjacent image, of a tent community in the middle of a dusty square, was the Honduran caravan so famously scapegoated by Trump, a community under the false protection of local police, who collaborate with local cartels to recruit men and kidnap women.
There were other images, of Haitians working and communing, of
Although we talked about sweeping generalizations standing there with the artwork, the artwork does no such thing in and of itself. Vivanco’s images are not didactic, they tell no story, they are not of scenes of sudden suffering or violence, they are not “shocking.” They do not attempt an explanation of anything, they do not attempt to help anyone, they are documents of a process, yes, but a process without an endpoint, without a need to “help.” Vivanco stayed with the Haitians, stayed with the Hondurans, talked to them when she could, went to meet them where she could, in the process putting herself occasionally in grave danger, walking by herself in the hills in the most violent city in the world to meet the operator of Radio Haiti.