Since President Donald Trump took office, many across the nation, including Trump himself, have publicly and vocally engaged in anti-immigrant discourse. And as Donald Trump continues to yell from the rooftops his intent to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, Academy Award-winning Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu has opened “Carne y Arena,” a virtual reality installation in an attempt to paint a realistic picture of the journey that immigrants take to get to the U.S. right in the American capital.
The installation first opened at the 2017 Oscars, winning the director a “Special Oscar Award.” Iñárritu recently set up the VR installation in Washington D.C. so as to give policy-makers and possibly even the president himself a taste of the reality that immigrants live. The installation made its debut in the American capital last Monday.
Carne y Arena is translated into English as “Virtually Present, Physically Invisible.” The direct translation of the title into English, however, is “Flesh and Sand,” which speaks to how reflective of reality Iñárritu intended for the VR installation to be. The ‘sand’ in the title is said to refer to the sand that collects in immigrants’ shoes as they traverse borders.
The installation is supposedly set in the desolate and sandy areas where U.S. Border Patrol can freely practice Trump-era immigration policies in an attempt to emulate the experience of most immigrants.
Iñárritu, who is also best-known for films like Babel, Birdman, and The Revenant, was adamant on making sure that the VR experience included as many details as possible since he wanted to vividly describe the hardships of immigrants on the move. In some ways, Carne y Arena evokes a scene on the U.S-Mexico border from Iñárritu’s 2006 film Babel.
Designing 360° sound for the project proved to be difficult but not impossible for the installation’s audio engineers, both of whom work for Skywalker Sound, a sub-company of Lucasfilm motion picture group – the company behind the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series.
Carne y Arena, which lasts for a mere six minutes, is described by the installation’s website as “highly immersive and can feel extremely realistic including experiences with firearms.” The website also recommends participants pack light and wear shoes that are easy to take off and requires participants to sign a waiver and release of liability form.
Entrance to Iñárritu’s installation, which is set up in an abandoned church, is free, but tickets must be reserved in advance. Prior to coming to the American capital, Carne y Arena toured in Milan, Los Angeles, and Mexico City.
According to the installation’s website, Iñárritu says the ideation of Carne y Arena involved interviewing several Mexican and Central American refugees whose “real life stories haunted me,” he says. Through the installation, Iñárritu wants to “claim the space to allow the visitor to go through a direct experience walking in the immigrants’ feet, under their skin, and into their hearts.”