Along the Rio Grande

Exhibition curated by Subhankar Banerjee & Josie Lopez, PhD
Public programming convened by Suzanne Sbarge & Subhankar Banerjee

Developed by 516 ARTS in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Art & Ecology program at the University of New Mexico, in partnership
with a 
number of arts, academic, cultural and conservation organizations and institutions in the Rio Grande / Río Bravo watershed.

September 28 – December 28, 2019

“May this exhibit be a voice for those whose nonhuman voices should be heard. We offer our respects and acknowledgments to the Pueblo nations currently surrounding Albuquerque, New Mexico, as stewards of these lands since time immemorial: the Pueblo of Isleta, the Pueblo of Sandia, the Pueblo of Santa Ana, the Pueblo of Laguna, the Pueblo of Acoma “Sky City,” the Pueblo of Zia, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We offer our respects and acknowledgments to all past and present Native nations, pueblos, villages, and communities along the Rio Grande/Río Bravo del Norte watershed and the Indigenous ancestors…”
—Rosie Thunderchief, Roger Fragua & Brophy Toledo, from “Land Acknowledgement of the Rio Grande/Río Bravo del Norte

Buffalo are coming
smashing homes and hearts,
waking people, stirring them to think
to feel again, to do away with profit margins,
                                              Buffalo are coming”
—Jimmy Santiago Baca, from “Buffalo Poem” written for the 2019 Bison On the Edge conference in Albuquerque,
and read again during the Global Perspectives Public Forum of Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande

Species of all sorts—charismatic and overlooked, small and large, animals and plants—are now in peril all over the world. This epic tragedy, known as biological annihilation, includes human-caused species extinctions, die-offs and massacres. In May 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which operates under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme, issued a comprehensive global biodiversity assessment with a dire warning: 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many within decades, all due to human activities. Alarmed by the escalating loss of nonhuman lives—community members across the Rio Grande / Río Bravo basin, in the borderlands of the United States and Mexico, have come together to offer a transnational creative response to the tragedy informed by science  and Indigenous ecological knowledge.

Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande, a contemporary art exhibition at 516 ARTS, and the associated public programming, which includes Indigenous knowledge walks, poetry reading, and talks and interdisciplinary panels, as well as other associated exhibitions (including Desierto.Arte.Archivo; Seed: Climate Change Resilience; A Line in the Sand: Wildlife of the Borderlands; Candelilla, Coatlicue, and the Breathing Machine; Intertwined: The Mexican Wolf, the People and the Land; Día de los Muertos Ofrenda; and Long Environmentalism); murals (including Both Sides of the River: Endangered Species in the Borderlands); and public art projects (including Pollinator Concentrator: Focusing the Unseen; and Contemplation Stations)–taking place in New Mexico, Chihuahua (Mexico), Texas and Colorado—aim to raise awareness, spark conversations, and inspire collective actions for multispecies justice.

The 84-page exhibition catalog and the 32-page program guide are available online in its entirety for viewing and download at no cost. If you wish to purchase a print edition of the exhibition catalog, please visit the 516 ARTS gift shop. We encourage you to consider using these publications and the resources that you will find on this website–in teaching, scholarship, and community organizing to address the biological crisis happening in your own region.

“Throughout the process of organizing Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande, my mantra has been ‘How does the river connect us?’ This simple question has helped to guide the process of exploring how the water, microbes, plants, animals, and the river itself all connect us to the vast issue of the global biological crisis.”—Suzanne Sbarge, Executive Director, 516 ARTS

“A key thread that runs through the exhibition is a larger sense of interconnectedness. Species, habitats, and human behavior are now thought of as inextricably linked. As many of the works in this exhibition demonstrate, species loss has a profound impact on cultural, political, and historical developments over time. Paying attention to the biological and cultural connections between the living worlds of plants, animals, and humans is imperative to the survival of species in our region.”—Josie Lopez, Curator of Art, Albuquerque Museum

Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande was conceived with an eye toward making the biological crisis—which so far has eluded much public engagement—into a common crisis. By that I mean a crisis that we all can see and experience and participate in to mitigate. … This may be the first time that communities across a large region spanning two nations have engaged the biological crisis in such an expansive and distributed manner with a shared concern and generosity.”
—Subhankar Banerjee, Lannan Chair and Professor of Art & Ecology, University of New Mexico

A big thank you to the artists, advisors, speakers, partners, and the sponsors for so generously sharing your creativity, knowledge and resources in making this community project a success. We extend a special thank you to Roger Fragua and Brophy Toledo of the Flower Hill Institute at the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico, and Dr. León De la Rosa-Carrillo and Dr. Ma. Eugenia Hernández-Sánchez of the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua, Mexico, for your invaluable advice and partnership in helping shape this project to become more culturally inclusive and spatially expansive. 


We extend our gratitude to Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller for signing municipal proclamations formally recognizing the importance of Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande for our cities and shared region.


We are deeply grateful to Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico for introducing, with his colleagues in the U.S. Congress, two important biodiversity legislations during the course of the Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande project: in October 2019, with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, the “Udall-Bennet Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature,” which responds to a call from scientists and aims to establish a national goal of conserving at least 30 percent of the land and 30 percent of the ocean within the territory of the United States by 2030; and in November 2019, with U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona and with endorsements from U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland of New Mexico, the “Udall-Gallego Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act of 2019,” which would support wildlife management efforts by Indigenous Tribes.

Images from top to bottom:


Evaporation is a mud mural that graphically represents all endangered and threatened species along the Rio Grande. Using sharp graphic stencils, I painted clay and earth pigments, collected in the Rio Grande Valley, onto the wall, depicting the expanse of the river and silhouettes of over 150 endangered species, including crustaceans, mollusks, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants. With the harvested clay, the work evokes the cracking, dry habitat the wet river cuts through and the fragility of its inhabitants to water shortage, climate change, and pollution.”–Ruben Olguin

“The proposed wall for the U.S.–Mexico border will have heavy ecological consequences for the species living in the region. The wall will sever ecological connections in a region that is considered one of the most biologically diverse in the Western Hemisphere due to its large variety of habitats, with mixed mountain ecosystems—known as “sky islands”— surrounded by vast desert communities. Because the borderlands are located within the gentle transition zone between tropical and temperate climates, species that do not coexist anywhere else in the world live side by side here. The borderlands are home to more than 180 threatened and endangered species. A viable future for these and many other wild creatures depends on open migration pathways between the United States and Mexico.”–from the Zeke Peña artist page in the exhibition catalog.

“The Rio Grande silvery minnow is a small fish once found for hundreds of miles in the Rio Grande, from Española, New Mexico, to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. Today, these fish exist in less than 5% of their native range and can only be seen between Cochiti Dam and Elephant Butte Reservoir. The silvery minnow was listed as an endangered species in 1994, yet today it is still one of the most endangered fish in North America. The decrease in silvery minnow populations is directly correlated with human alterations to the Rio Grande over the past century. These alterations include water diversions for municipal and agricultural uses, modifications of the natural hydrological cycle of the river, habitat degradation, and the construction of dams.”
–from the Mary Tsiongas & Jennifer Owen-White artist page in the exhibition catalog

Banner Image: Ruben Olguin, Evaporation (detail), 2019, Hand-foraged clay and soil on wall.
Zeke Peña, All Against the Wall, 2018, Digital illustration, created for Southwest Environmental Center to call attention to the harm that the border wall causes wildlife and our communities.
Mary Tsiongas & Jennifer Owen WhiteSilvery Minnow Past and Silvery Minnow Present,  2019, Etched cast acrylic.