Ciudad Juárez, set on the Mexico-Texas border, is thought to be the most violent city on Earth. Since 1993, thousands of young women have disappeared, with many found abused and murdered. The Mexican government has failed to take femicide seriously, but for their families life will never be the same. ‘Remember Them’ is a collection of tributes to them.
Running from today until February 2014 the show was opened by the University’s Baines Professor and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Internalisation Michael Hoey. Wearing a pink tie in support of protest group Ni Una Más, he delivered a powerful speech that explained the femicides and the exhibition works of Julián Cardona, Brian Maguire, Lise Bjørne Linnert and Teresa Margolles. His speech stressed the inhumanity and realism of the attacks, setting the tone for the show.
Set against the Gallery’s majestic ‘Red Wall’, Julián Cardona’s silver gelatine photographs depict the bleak reality of life in Ciudad Juárez: families handing out ‘Missing’ flyers, body search parties, a mother at the moment she is told that her daughter is dead. The pink and black crosses of Ni Una Más are sprinkled across streets. The Mexican photojournalist began documenting his home town in the 1990s and his photographs been published in exposés worldwide.
Brian Maguire’s paintings of missing women are energetic and expressive, set in bold strokes of colour that seem to leap off the canvas. Though their expressions are sombre, they are cast in bright, playful details. The attention they demand makes them more powerful than traditional portraiture, and the artist’s notes describe the women that they were.
We learn that Veronica started working at 13 and gave her wages to her mother, requesting only ’20 pesos for a burger and Pantene shampoo’. Another girl is shown wearing her quinceanera dress. Maguire painted two of each portrait, giving the second to the woman’s family.
Lise Bjørne Linnert’s textile exhibit, Desconida, Unknown, Ukjent, is the result of workshops all over the world. Each tag has been hand-stitched with either the name of a missing woman or the word ‘unknown’ in the stitcher’s native language, the idea being that each person has dedicated their time and handiwork to the memory of a lost woman.
Arranged in the Morse code national anthems of Mexico and the USA, the Barbie pink and delicate embroidery of the exhibit stand in sharp contrast to the horror you feel when you realise that each of the thousands upon thousands of tags stands for a murdered woman. Standing against the wall, Linnert opened the exhibit with a performance of ‘Presence’, a wordless song that she explains is designed to make the viewer more vulnerable and receptive to the art.
In Gallery 7 Teresa Margolles’s 35-minute film, Irrigación (Irrigation) shows a truck spraying water on a Texas road. Though nothing happens in the film, it’s highly symbolic as a show-closer: the 5,000 gallons of water being shed are mixed with blood and matter collected from murder sites in Ciudad Juárez, and though the tarmac is being ‘irrigated’ with the products of this violence, nothing will ever come of it.
The four collections are a sombering introduction to a world usually unseen in Liverpool and the Victoria Building, with its history as a centre for women, is the perfect setting for it.
‘Remember Them’ runs from Friday 27 September to 1 February 2014 at Victoria Gallery & Museum, Brownlow Hill. Admission is free.