College of Fine Arts, School of Art, School of Music

Graduate artists Mariel Miranda and Bella Maria Varela from the School of Art and Diana Peralta from the Fred Fox School of Music were awarded scholarships to conduct border-engaged research for the University of Arizona Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry.

The 2021 Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellows will bring focus on building new public understanding and interpretation of the U.S.-Mexico border. This scholarship creates new ways of understanding border dynamics, tensions, innovations, dreams and realities.


Project Summary: This project proposes to create an interdisciplinary research mechanism based on the activation of dream audios as source material for exploration and interrogation. Through the active listening and transcription of a dream archive, I have discovered the recurrent description of scenes related to family archetypes, border community struggles, gender issues and the persecution of necro-violent monsters. Through the dream archive research, I will create a visual and textual lexicon that serves as both a manual and methodological framework for mapping a specific sensible political landscape: A U.S.-Mexico border region during the period of 2013 to 2020. This lexicon mapping practice aims to address the question of how we can translate our dreams into material forms — texts, imaging, objects, in order to be able to speak and discuss from a personal background about the manifestations of fears and desires that intersect our sensible experience as subjects. The dream archive is based on my life experience as a young woman who has lived her life on the U.S.-Mexico border. Generating knowledge from the female experience of the global south by applying a sensitive and intimate technique is an epistemic decolonial effort.

“Seven years ago, I began to create a dream archive — a series of personal voice recordings that sought to capture dream narratives I could recall from the previous night,” said Miranda. “The work was a training exercise against oblivion. After my mother died, I was afraid to lose the new images of her that began to manifest in my dreams. Over the years I added other narratives: dreams that I realized were also speaking to contemporary socio-political concerns.

“The project ‘Everything was Black and Yet, it Glowed’ proposes to create interdisciplinary research based on the use of these personal audios as a source of exploration and interrogation.”


Project Summary: In the present climate, the importance of being involved in border healing has increased. My project uses this as the basis of its purpose: The objective is to record two videos with songs carefully chosen after specific research to clearly identify the characteristic link of the people from this border-zone through time. The videos will bring together musicians from both sides of the border, and the songs will be sung in the two languages (Spanish and English) using the words appropriate for each cultural identity. These videos will be edited so we can see images from both countries and the singers and musicians in their own atmospheres and circumstances.

“Being a Mexican woman looking for a path in music and arts, having a communion with a beautiful country that has given so much opportunities and opened doors for so many Latin people, it is important to know the background that links all of us as a unity and how the history has united us since the beginning of the civilization in this land,” said Peralta.


Project Summary: Becky the Explorer addresses my personal experience with American history and popular culture to explore the intersection of immigrant experience, family, and gender identity. The artwork consists of video artworks and textile assemblages that layer my personal experience with American history and popular culture to explore the intersection of immigration, family, and gender identity. The assemblages are constructed from found and custom-printed fleece blankets, and thrifted souvenirs. The blankets will bear images of pop culture icons, homeland heroes, picturesque landscapes, religious figures, and sports stars that I collect and use as reference material for my custom fleece prints. Similarly, the videos are edited into a montage of Point-of-View (POV), landscapes, and performance sequences. By deconstructing and reconfiguring those materials I create formal, physical and conceptual gaps where new meanings are inferred and interpreted.

“Doing border-centric scholarship/research is important to me in order to honor the place in which my family comes,” said Varela. “It helps me understand who I am, as a first-generation Guatemalan-American woman, and think about the spaces I want to carve for future generations of Latinx people in the United States. As an educator, going through this process will help me better guide my students, no matter where they come from, to tell their own story.”

The Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry is a research institute under the Office of Research, Discovery & Innovation that supports world-class collaborative, innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship at the University of Arizona. The Fronteridades initiative was launched in 2019, with generous support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This multi-program arts and humanities initiative aims to shift public narratives of the U.S.-Mexico border, drawing from the real human experiences of border residents. This year’s cohort of Confluencenter Graduate Fellows supports Fronteridades in their commitment to deepening our understanding of the border through creative and community-engaged scholarship, led by Arizona graduate students.

Graduate student awardees represent diverse disciplines, including Geography, Journalism, Art, Music, Education, Anthropology, Spanish & Portuguese, Mexican American Studies, and Latin American Studies. Consequently, this research spans diverse methodologies, from ethnographic interview research to critical archive research, collaborative dance testimonies, and binational co-created music composition. Final products will include films, scholarly journal articles, gallery shows, conference presentations and a public website of personal stories.