By Julie Watson / Associated Press
TECATE, Calif. — A photo of a giant toddler stands in Mexico and peers over a steel wall dividing the country from the United States.
The boy appears to grip the barrier with his fingers, leaving the impression the entire thing could be toppled with a giggle.
A French artist who goes by the moniker “JR” erected the cut-out of the boy that stands nearly 65 feet tall and is meant to prompt discussion of immigration.
On Friday, a steady stream of people drove to the remote section of wall near the Tecate border crossing, about 40 miles southeast of San Diego. Border Patrol agents warned visitors to keep the dirt road clear for their patrols and not pass anything through the fence.
Elmond Davantes, a software developer from Carlsbad, California, took photos from the U.S. side.
“It’s larger than life,” he said. “It just draws attention to the whole issue in a positive way.”
On the Mexican side, families scrambled down a scrubby hillside to take selfies with the artwork. Children in school uniforms played tag under the scaffolding supporting the photo.
People on each side of the wall waved to each other.
Salma Montoya, 18, a student in Tecate said her town is abuzz about it.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
JR has done other large-scale portraits around the world, with much of his recent work focused on immigrants.
He told reporters at Wednesday’s unveiling of the portrait that he was spurred by a dream in which he imagined a kid looking over the border wall.
“And when I woke up, I wondered: ‘What was he thinking?’” he said. “Like for us we know all the implications, what it represents, how it divides, but for a kid, I didn’t have the answer.”
A year later when JR was scouting for the perfect spot for his project, he noticed a house in Tecate near the border wall. He and a Mexican friend knocked on the door to see about the possibility of locating it around there. After they drove away, it occurred to him that the 1-year-old at the home who had been staring at them reminded him of the boy he had dreamed about.
JR and his friend immediately went back. JR asked the woman if he could photograph her son. She knew his work and agreed.
The artwork was unveiled the week President Donald Trump said he would end a program that has allowed young immigrants who were brought to America illegally as children to remain in the country.
The administration also accepted more proposals for its plans to build a continuous wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border.
JR said he did not intend for the project in Tecate to coincide with the news about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
JR has worked for years to highlight the “Ellis Islands of today,” which has taken him from the shores of Italy where migrants have been arriving by boat from Africa to the California desert.
“Now as an artist I think that it’s amazing that the piece arrived at a moment when it creates more dialogue,” he said. “Because the idea itself is to raise more questions.”
For artists and activists, the 650 miles of existing wall and fencing between the U.S. and Mexico has long been a blank canvas.
Musicians have played simultaneously on both sides. A giant wooden Trojan-style horse was once parked near a crossing in Tijuana. There have been volleyball games and church services held simultaneously on each side of the border.
Sections of wall on the Mexican side have been covered with paintings of everything from butterflies to an upside-down American flag.
JR has erected other large-scale portraits in the slums of Paris, from the top of buildings in Rio de Janeiro, and set up giant photo booths from Israel and Palestine to the United States.
The latest piece will remain in Tecate for a month. JR hopes people will view it from each side.