After a controversial photo installation was removed from the Maine Mall, the Portland-based art collective Border Patrol hopes its next piece will be more permanent.

On Saturday, Border Patrol will host an art performance, “Funeral for the Ocean,” at Highland Memorial Cemetery in South Portland that involves the placement of a granite slab inscribed with a fragment of an untitled poem by Chicago poet Imani Elizabeth Jackson.

A fragment of a poem by Imani Elizabeth Jackson is on a granite slab that’s at the center of Border Patrol’s performance art piece. Photo by Sean D. Henry-Smith, courtesy of Border Patrol

“We are hoping this will be a permanent thing that stays on because we bought the plot,” said Elizabeth Spavento, co-director of Border Patrol. “We see it as a permanent public memorial.”

Saturday’s performance begins at 6 p.m. at the cemetery at 881 Highland Ave. Jackson has written a poem as part of an ongoing, unpublished set of poems contending with the middle passage, slavery and the entangled relationship of the Atlantic Ocean with enslavement.

The artists Vanessa Anspaugh and Asher Woodworth will create a performance piece based around funeral ritual and processions.

“Funeral for the Ocean” is part of a larger Border Patrol project called “R.I.P.” that explores death and dying. The work is funded by a grant from the Rockland-based Ellis-Beauregard Foundation.

Border Patrol, based in the State Theatre building, wanted to take its work into public spaces for this project. Over five months beginning in June, Border Patrol bought advertising space in kiosks at the Maine Mall, where it featured photos by a different artist every month, exploring themes of extinction, loss, ceremony and grief. The last one, by the New York artist Lizania Cruz, was removed after a few days.

Her installation involved photographs of flowers common in Mexico, along with a message for the president: “Let him rot!”

A few days after the installation went up in early September, Spavento got an email from the Florida-based company, Smartlite, that handles advertising in the mall, saying that Cruz’s artwork drew complaints. “We were asked to remove the poster. Mall management prefers to stay away from politics, and Smartlite must honor their request,” a Smartlite representative wrote to Spavento.

Border Patrol didn’t have much recourse, Spavento said. Its contract with Smartlite allows the company to remove any image for any reason.

“We knew it might be a problem and we assumed it would come down,” Spavento said. “But we hoped it would be up for more than a few days.”

She worries that an art collective being silenced at the mall might be part of a larger trend of eroding civil liberties across the culture. “It seems pretty symbolic of this larger thing happening in our country right now,” she said.

Neither mall management nor a Smartlite representative returned messages seeking comment.

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