Border Wall

Allan Gerson, who died last year at 74, was a Washington attorney and foreign affairs expert who fought a yearslong court battle on behalf of families of victims of the terrorist bomb that downed Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988. In his off-hours, Gerson was a photographer, mounting his first exhibition while working in the Justice Department in the mid-’80s. The American University Museum’s posthumous exhibit, Border Wall, features his images of the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border, a topic that couldn’t be timelier. Gerson’s images, shown in a virtual exhibit due to the pandemic, aren’t fancy, befitting their gritty subject. The worn and rusted metal walls he documents are sometimes topped by razor wire and are often adorned with graffiti and amateur paintings: faces that straddle the line between goofy and menacing, a clenched fist, a skeleton, a dead-eyed eagle, even the Spanish translation of an Oscar Wilde quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it.” Gerson’s focus on human rights stemmed from his experience in a displaced persons camp in Germany, after his Jewish family fled from the Nazis and then from the Soviets. The images and the catalogue are available at american.edu. Free. —Louis Jacobson