Mar 20, 2012

The Ranger: Artist displays Juarez femicides project in Texas

Reprinted with permission from The Ranger

Artist explores pain of border “femicides”

Lecturer gives students insight behind Marfa installation piece.

By J. Almendarez
The Ranger
San Antonio, Texas
Published: Monday, March 19, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 19, 2012 20:03
From Sept. 24 until Jan. 1, anyone who happened to be in Marfa could have, at any hour of the day or night, visited 510 W. San Antonio St. and seen 476 white human heart replicas hanging from the ceiling.
Each heart bore in red marker the name, age and cause of death of victims of “femicide,” or killing women, from 1993 to 2006 in Juarez, Mexico.
Artist and conservator Bettina Landgrebe crafted the installation after reading “The Killing Fields,” by Diana Washington Valdez, which gained international attention when it was published in 2005 for its graphic depiction of the mass killings of women in the border town.
Juarez sits across the Rio Grande River, the U.S.-Mexican border, from El Paso, the fourth largest city in Texas. With a combined population of almost 3 million people, the metropolitan area is the largest population center on any international border, according to the Industrial Development Council of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce.
In the book, Valdez quotes Marisela Ortiz, activist and founder of Mothers of Juarez, as saying, “They are poor, young, mainly migrants to the city looking to improve their lives in the factories. And when they are found, they have been tortured, mutilated, bruised, fractured or strangled and, in every case, violated — gang-raped.”
National Public Radio, echoing other news organizations, reported in 2003 that, “Mexican authorities, unable to catch the killers, are roundly accused of being inept, corrupt and even complicit in the killings.”
These accusations continue, along with the crimes.
CNN reported last summer that Mexican President Felipe Calderon said homicides in the city had fallen by 60 percent since October 2010.
"The president just came here and it went down, but to say 60 or 70 percent is a lie — he just left and the violence continues," Juarez resident Gaspar Rocha told CNN. "You have seen what has happened in the past and it will continue and continue and he will leave. They're just words ... it's a lie."
Landgrebe’s reaction was the creation of “Beaten with a Hammer.”
“It’s as if you’re holding, in a way, you’re holding the heart of that person in your hand,” she said. “I had to deal with it in a very bureaucratic manner.”
Landgrebe presented on her piece and its origin to 33 attendees in the visual arts center March 8.
She said she used eight medical models of a human heart and sculptor mold, a plaster-like substance, to make the hearts over three years.
She said the mold allowed for each heart to have irregularities, representing the diversity of the “femicide” victims.
She said the handwritten portion of the project was the hardest part, and she found she could only write about 30 to 40 names in a given work session.
“It made me feel furious and helpless all at once over and over again,” she said.
Education sophomore Felisha Eiluk said she thought the irregularities and handwriting on the hearts added meaning to the piece.
”I think it takes a lot for someone to go in … and touch so many people,” she said.
Landgrebe said she hung the hearts from the ceiling with red fishing wire to complement the red ink on the hearts.
She said from a distance, the floor to ceiling windows of the building showed what appeared to be clods inside of it, but viewers could see the defined heart as they approached the building.
She also placed 100 hearts in an opened circle on the floor representing the women who will continue to be killed by the violence and women’s bodies that have not been found.
She said the site was chosen because lights could be on inside the building at all times, so the exhibit was able to be viewed 24 hours a day.
During a question and answer session following the lecture, Marisol Macias, American Sign Language and interpreter training sophomore, told Landgrebe, “My family lives on the border, and I’ve seen how that violence grows to where I’m afraid for my family.”
In an interview after the lecture, Macias said her family lives in Eagle Pass, and she visits them at least once a year.
But, she said, visits to Piedras Negras, Mexico, across the river from Eagle Pass and which she frequently visited as a child, has become off-limits.
“It was all too familiar, just the random acts of violence,” she said.
Landgrebe has been prominent in the art community throughout Europe and Germany, where she is from.
She has most recently been conservator for painting, sculpture and contemporary art at Kunsthalle Bremen in Bremen, Germany; head of studio at the Stichting Kollektief Restauratieatelier Amsterdam in the Netherlands; conservator at The Donald Judd Estate in Marfa; and head of painting conservation, conservation of polychrome wooden sculpture and conservation of contemporary art at the Museum Wiesbaden, in Wiesbaden, Germany.
She said the hearts are currently packed in boxes and she hopes to redisplay the art at another time, but she said she will not add additional hearts to the piece to reflect newer numbers.
“I’m never finished with it,” she said. “I do not want to do more. It has been enough.”
( (The Ranger: Serving San Antonio College since 1926)