May 21, 2010

Art protest in Philadelphia against Juarez femicides

ArtMarch May 15, 2010, in Philadelphia on YouTube by Al Dia

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"Desconocida Unknown Ukjent is using a traditional female activity; embroidery. to invite people globally to engage, protest and show solidarity with the fight against abuse and violence towards women, focusing on the situation in Ciudad Juarez." - Lise Bjorne Linnert, Norway

Philadelphia Weekly
Article on the ArtMarch by Gustavo Martinez
May 15, 2010

A Piece of Cuidad Juarez in Philly

Despite having two bodyguards for the last two years, Marisela Ortiz does not feel safe.

"I will never see having bodyguards as something normal," says Ortiz, who got the protection because of the decade-long fighting in Cuidad Juarez, an increasingly dangerous Mexican city. "But me and my family have been the target of death threats, insults, repression because there are people who don't want the truth to be uncovered."

Since 2001, Ortiz, 50, has been leading Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Bring Our Daughters Back Home), an organization that helps the families of the many women who have disappeared or who have been killed in that city just across from El Paso, Texas.

About 800 women and students from working-class neighborhoods in Cuidad Juarez have been kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed since 1993. It’s part of an ongoing wave of violence resulting from drug wars, says Diana Washington Valdez, a reporter for El Paso Times who has been investigating the killings since 1999.

"Well, we see the results of the so-called investigations and that's coming up with scape goats, chivos expiatorios, misidentifying victims," she says. "Cases keep getting old and the statue of limitation is expiring, so cases that happened in 1993, ‘94, they have expired now. They're getting away with murder no matter who committed the crimes."

She also points to the widespread corruption that has allowed these killings to continue, despite local and international pressure to intervene.

But a series of events in Philadelphia this weekend will help keep the memory of these women alive.

Ni Una Más (Not One More), a Drexel University collaboration, seeks to raise awareness about gender violence and, in particular, crimes against women in Juarez, says Abbie Dean, a co-curator of one of the event’s exhibits.

The event will kick off with ARTMARCH, a mass demonstration/performance-art piece that will include more than 700 young women from Drexel University dressed in the iconic pink that can be seen on the victims’ memorial crosses in Juarez.

The event is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Saturday at the 33rd Street Armory. The group will march toward the university and end with a rally outside Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, 3401 Filbert St.

At the gallery, an exhibit will gather 70 works by 20 international artists. One of the highlights is the work of Frank Bender, a Philadelphian whose art has taken him from being featured in “America's Most Wanted” to a hotel a room in Ciudad Juárez, where he tried to reconstruct the faces of six women.

"I stayed there for a month and in that month my wife received a threatening email," Bender said. "We had to move out the hotel room in the middle of the night."

For him, that was the beginning of an ordeal that led him to believe that Mexican authorities had no will to solve these murders.

"How could these bodies lay there all these time and nobody found them until they're decomposed," he said. "How come the evidence locker in Juárez is open for anybody to take whatever they want? This is incompetence by design. They don't really want to solve these cases."

Washington Valdez's work on both sides of the border has resulted in The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women, a book that reveals high-level corruption, specifically the deal between the drug cartel and Mexican officials that allowed for such widespread violence.

"The murders committed by some of the suspects stopped [after the book came out]. Because there was too much scrutiny put on the whole situation," she said. "But the organized crime in general, because that network still exists, is still protecting the killers of women and children."

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Reuters article

(Reuters) - In the middle of a West Philadelphia art gallery, a sculpture of a naked woman lies on a low plinth.

Arts | Lifestyle

The three-foot-long figure by Philadelphia artist Arlene Love is missing its right arm and leg and has a huge gash running the length of its leather-covered torso, along the side of its throat and ending near the right ear.

The gruesome effigy entitled Beverly is part of an exhibit that epitomizes the violence done to women in Juarez, Mexico, where at least 700 women have been murdered since the 1990s in a wave of often sexual violence that is highlighted by the Philadelphia show.

Ni Una Mas or "Not One More", in the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University, uses painting, sculpture, photography and other media to draw attention to the savage killings of hundreds of women in the U.S.-Mexico border city that is better known to the outside world for its drug-related violence.

"The aim is to encourage others to action and to open their eyes, and their minds and their hearts to this poignant situation in Juarez," said Abbie Dean, a co-curator of the exhibit that runs until July 16.

Works in the exhibit include "Heal", by Yoko Ono. It consists of a 20-foot-wide plain canvas sheet covered with gashes and rips. Viewers are invited to repair the fabric with needle and thread on an adjacent table, in a gesture intended to symbolize the need for healing after many years of violence.

On a pink-painted wall nearby, hundreds of embroidered name tapes commemorate the victims. The tapes have been made by some 1,900 volunteers in 27 countries. The meticulous nature of embroidery represents the care shown by the volunteers toward the dead women, said the Norwegian artist Lise Linnert.

In the center of the exhibition floor there is a translucent banner in which an image of a police badge is superimposed on many reports of the murders, an image designed to show official inaction or even complicity with the killings, the organizers say.

The show is "unabashedly activist" in its intent, according to a statement from the curators, and is intended to generate international demand for a halt to the killings.

"It is open season on women in Juarez because there is no one in authority to give the murderers pause or to protect the innocent," the curators wrote in an exhibition guide. "The faces of the perpetrators and protectors are blurred into one, and this political paralysis has made it a land of murder without debt."

The known names of the victims line a wall at the entrance of the show. The list ends in 2006 when the Mexican government stopped releasing names, said Dean. But information from prosecutors indicates that 34 women were killed in Juarez in the first three months of 2010, a doubling over the same period of 2009, she said.

"The entire situation in Juarez is an indication that the government is no longer in control," Dean said.

Calling the killings "femicide", she said they surged in 1993 when the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement brought many young women to the U.S. border area near Juarez to work in "maquilladoras", the factories set up by U.S. corporations to take advantage of cheap local labor.

"The women were easy prey," Dean said.

The killings may also be an "instrument of terror" in the city's current wave of drug-related violence, she added.

Beyond the focus of the Mexican killings, the show aims to highlight violence to women in other parts of the world. It includes a sculpture commemorating the burned brides of India, young women who have died in fires set by their husbands who intend to collect a further dowry.

The show runs until July 16.