As It Happens

This Canadian-born artist is building a wall of cheese along the U.S.-Mexico border

Cosimo Cavallaro just wants to "Make America Grate Again."

Food-based artist Cosimo Cavallaro aims to 'Make America Grate Again'

Artist Cosimo Cavallaro builds his wall of cheese along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Submitted by Cosimo Cavallaro )

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Cosimo Cavallaro says the wall of expired cheese bricks he's been erecting in the hot California sun "smells of love and passion."

The Montreal-born artist is building a 300-metre long, 1.8-metre tall wall of cheese along the U.S.-Mexico border, in a project he's hoping will "Make America Grate Again."

"First of all, it's a beautiful wall. It feels like a loving wall, a welcoming wall. It's a smelly wall. And it's an overwhelming wall of joy, you know?" Cavallaro told As It Happens guest host Megan Williams.

"I wouldn't call it a wailing wall, but it's definitely a wafting wall."

Which whey is the border?

Just a few steps from the actual border in Tecate, Calif., the crowdfunded artwork is made out of blocks of Cotija cheese from the Mexican state of Michoacán, which cost $100 a pop.

The actual border fence looms over it, trimmed with barbed wire, and far less welcoming. 

But all in all, Cavallaro says it's a beautiful place to work, with not a lot going on. 

"The image that's painted is that there's these bad people coming over — and there's just nothing," he said. "We're just sitting around and having a good time, like a picnic."

Cosimo Cavallaro, right, is building a wall of cheese just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tecate, Calif. (Submitted by Cosimo Cavallaro)

Cavallaro grew up in Montreal, the son of Italian immigrants, and later moved to Los Angeles.

He's known primarily for his edible art, including a bed of ham, a room splattered with ketchup, and a life-sized milk chocolate Jesus that sparked Catholic protests in New York.

But he has a real soft spot for cheese.

He described vivid childhood memories of his grandparents visiting from Italy with authentic Italian cheese wrapped in cloth in their suitcase.

"That was like the reason why they came from across the sea, the ocean — to bring us this cheese that was only theirs and no one else's," he said.

"I love this idea that, you know, you travel with this food. It's beautiful."

The immigrant experience 

He says his experience as the child of immigrants, and later an immigrant himself, left him fascinated with the idea of borders.

"As a Canadian-Italian in Quebec, it was very difficult. Oftentimes, I was told to leave Quebec because I'm not from there," he said.

"That was a strange feeling — being born there and because you're a son of immigrants, you're told to leave."

So when U.S. President Donald Trump was elected on a boisterous campaign promise to build a wall along the border, he decided it was time to explore those ideas through art — and, of course, cheese.

"This idea of, you know, the immigrants are always taking away something from the natives is interesting and this project brought that about. And when I did more research about, you know, 'government cheese' in America ... and then the cartoon character Speedy Gonzalez coming into America to steal the American cheese, we haven't evolved that much further," he said.

"There's still this belief that, you know, the other people on the other side are coming here to steal what you have."

All walls must crumble

As he began building the wall, he says more themes came into focus.

The food waste, he says, is emblematic of the waste of money he believes Trump's proposed border wall would be. 

Then there's the ephemeral nature of borders. His cheese wall — like all walls — will eventually crumble. 

"The fact that it's perishable, I only have a time limit with this piece and then it goes back to nothing," he said.

"The same thing happens whether you build a steel wall, or stone wall or a cheese wall. But the cheese wall decomposes a lot quicker."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Jonathan Ore. Produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby.