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MEXICO: University Professors Photos Draw the Wrath of Border Industrialists

Exhibit Taken Down After Maquila Execs Protest
by Julie LightSpecial to CorpWatch
April 29th, 1999

Credit: Fred Lonidier
A maquiladora worker wearing
a Halloween mask to hide his face
for fear of reprisal from the company.
Credit: Fred Lonidier

SAN DIEGO -- It wasn't just the politically provocative photographs that got Fred Lonidier's exhibit at Tijuana's public university taken down. It was the fact that he had the audacity to leaflet maquiladora workers outside the factory gates and invite them to the gallery that got his show yanked. University administrators received angry complaints from maquiladora industry executives demanding that the show come down. And it did in early April, less than three weeks after it went up.

The cancelled exhibit by the University of California at San Diego visual arts professor featured 17 photo and text panels lambasting the North American Free Trade Agreement and depicting conditions for maquiladora workers. One panel reads "A Free Trade Agreement that is not fair to all," while others depict outspoken factory workers wearing Halloween masks to prevent them from being identified by their bosses.

"The establishment of Tijuana lined up to protect the golden goose," Lonidier said referring to NAFTA and the more than 600 maquiladora factories in the border city.

Credit: Fred Lonidier
Photo of maquiladora worker from
cancelled exhibit.
Credit: Fred Lonidier

Administrators from the Autonomous University of Baja California readily admitted to that they caved in to pressure from manufacturers. Lonidier said he received an e-mail from a university official the day after he passed out the invitations that read, "Our obligation is to promote art with in the university and not to promote public points of view. Yesterday, we had a meeting with some members of the industrial community and they informed us that you or people who work for you have been delivering publicity not only about your exposition but about politics."

"The leaflet brought the show down," Lonidier said from his UCSD studio. "If I hadn't leafleted they would have kept it up." Meanwhile, he says artists, intellectuals and activists on both sides of the border are worked up over what they see as censorship.

The Autonomous University of Baja California, the largest public university in Tijuana, sits near the Otay Mesa, where the city's largest industrial park housing hundreds of maquiladoras lies. This was the first exhibit in Mexico for Lonidier, who has spent the last 25 years doing photo-text installations on labor themes.