The “femicide era” refers to the eruption of hundreds of deaths among women between 1993 and 2003 in Ciudad Juárez. Just beyond the United States border on the Rio Grande, about two miles south of El Paso, Texas, the Mexican city is still battling the surge of violence caused by powerful drug cartels whose dominance is stronger than police can control.
The motives behind the femicidal tendencies are unclear. Speculation includes a wide range of possibilities, such as gang wars, robbery, jealousy, domestic violence, organ theft and even the mere lack of value for human life in Juárez. Arrests are rare because fear keeps people from talking.
The UMKC Gallery of Art has acknowledged the atrocities surrounding Ciudad Juárez with its current show, Santa Muerte. Although its theme is heavy, it is one that demands attention.
One of the exhibit’s pieces is called Wall of Memories: Las Desaparecidas de Ciudad Juárez (“The Disappeared Girls of Ciudad Juárez”). Rows of Diane Kahlo’s acrylic panels are displayed in painted portraits of women whose faces represent the unbelievable—yet very real—ongoing tragedy in Juárez.
The recent wave of femicide is even worse now than it was in the ’90s. Today, the number of missing and murdered women in Juárez has surpassed 1,000.
Brutally murdered, the bodies of these women are disposed of in mass graves, public streets, and garbage piles. Some are young. Some are old. Some are pregnant. One was stabbed 63 times.
As the observer passes each row, each frame, each smiling face, it is difficult to process the lives lost. And yet, the people responsible for the ends of those lives are the same people that make investigation and prevention both difficult and dangerous.
“Few of these cases have ever been solved,” said gallery coordinator Davin Watne, whose input brings significant meaning to the featured artwork.
While examining a digital print by Citlali Cruz called Militares por las Calles (“Military on the Streets”), which shows soldiers surveying the roads of Juárez, Watne said “They do what they can.”
But it’s not enough to end it.
He explained that in addition to femicide, political instability and poverty are also prevalent in urban Juárez. Cartels have subjugated the government similar to the manner in which a mafia would, demanding fees from citizens and business owners in return for so-called “protection.” And although the military attempts to improve the system, some corrupt officials can be bought.
The concept of ineffective law enforcement is demonstrated in a piece called La Lotería Fronteriza (“Border Lottery”) by Yvianna “Zakniteh” Hernandez, who used multiple mediums to create a bingo card of typical Juárez events. The spot where justice should be is intentionally left blank.
One of the spaces contains kids playing with a decapitated head that serves as their soccer ball. Deeper meanings can be found in every image: a tree, a barrel, a hand. What do they signify?
To find out, stop by the UMKC Gallery of Art in Room 203 of the Fine Arts Building. The gallery is open every day except Sunday, and Santa Muerte will reside there until April 5. Hours and other information can be found at http://info.umkc.edu/art/umkcgallery/contact/.
“Generally, we host seven to eight shows per school year,” said graduate gallery assistant Mae McCurry. “So there is something new going on in the gallery nearly every month. It would be great if we could get more people to pop in between classes for a quick look around.”
McCurry said that the compelling issues surrounding the current display are not the only ones the gallery has worked hard to bring to light. The gallery’s shows tend to address important, thought-provoking topics through contemporary work.
is an exhibit that must be seen to fully appreciate. Those who want to learn more—or help put femicide to rest—can pick up Kahlo’s book, “Wall of Memories,” which corresponds with her artwork and elaborates on the Juárez killings. Kahlo donates all proceeds from book sales to agencies that work to prevent violence against women.