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Facing the Femicide

The National Museum of Mexican Art exposes the ongoing cycle of violence in Juarez.
Friday Dec 04, 2009.     By Lisa Brandush
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Judithe Hernandez, Judithe Hernandez's "The Border"

October marked the opening of a long-awaited exhibit featured at the National Museum of Mexican Art: "Rastros y Crónicas; Women of Juárez." The exhibit, featuring the work of 26 artists mostly of Mexican and Mexican-American descent, addresses the drastic increase in violence against women in Juárez, Mexico that began in 1993 and continues today.

An eerie atmosphere encompasses the exhibit, with photographs of the murdered victims haunting its walls. "Rastros y Cronicas" is an arsenal of artwork: paintings, sculptures and conceptual pieces not only shed light on the violence itself, but also aim to dig away at its deeply entangled roots.

Since the 'femicide' began, over 500 women have been ruthlessly murdered, sexually assaulted and mutilated, and many more are still missing in the Mexican city, which is only a stone's throw away from El Paso, Texas. A chilling majority of the crimes are left unsolved and Juárez remains shaken with fear as more bodies appear and more daughters simply vanish.

"We want to make sure that people are still aware of the violence against women in Juárez," says co-curator Linda Tortolero. "Most of the press that Mexico is getting has to do with drug wars. Sadly [the drug cartels] have shifted the attention away from femicide in Juárez."

Even more troubling than the lack of media attention are the many deep-seated causes of the violence. At the DePaul University Women's Center's sixth annual vigil for the dead and missing women, Tortolero outlined each of the contributing issues, including drug-cartel bloodshed, Juárez’s position as a border city, fumbled investigations by the police and government and the low socio-economic status of many of the victims.

Several pieces in the exhibit illustrate the impact of these issues. Judith Hernandez’s “The Border”- in which a woman with tautly bound hair, a bloodied face and her mouth sewn shut is portrayed on a canvas covered with barbed wire - references the tension created by the short distance between Juárez and the U.S. After the passage of NAFTA in 1994, more U.S. companies began establishing factories in Mexico to cut labor costs, causing young women to flock to the border towns in hopes of securing work. As a result of the dangerous living conditions, several of these maquiladora, or factory, workers, have been victimized. Yet these companies offer no protection to their female employees and provide little support to victims' families.

Eva Soliz's "Marked Daughter of Juarez" sheds light on the impact of government and police corruption. A young woman is the main piece on a game board, marked with a pink cross (like those placed where bodies were found), and shown marching helplessly toward her death. A male game piece stands off to the side facing her. He watches silently and does nothing, reflecting the shoddy police investigations in Juárez.

Rocio Caballero, Rocio Caballero's "Broken Dreams" (Los suenos rotos).
Rocio Caballero's "Broken Dreams" serves as the centerpiece of "Rastros y Crónicas." The painting concentrates on one young woman, alone in the desert beside two pink crosses. Donning a white wedding dress and veil, she waits for a wedding that will never come. Some might suggest that this painting holds women captive in the same sexist roles that create tension and violence in the first place. When women are limited to certain positions in society, such as a virgin bride and chaste wife, violence can occur when they challenge these constraints.

Co-curator Dolores Mercado further explains the piece: "Only some of the young victims' dreams were to be married, it is more representative of lost dreams as a whole." Tortolero adds, "The painting represents just one possible rite of passage."

Some of the Juárez victims are not women at all, but young girls who were never able to experience any rite of passage. The white dress and the dolls hidden in its veil stir up images of the innocence and loss of a brutally slain child.

“We are all guilty,” says Mercado of the violence, noting that a lack of awareness in both the U.S. and abroad has perpetuated the problem. This exhibit is just the first step in exposing the femicide to a broader audience.

“Rastros y Crónicas: Women of Juárez” runs through February 14, 2010 at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. The two-room exhibit is free to the general public.


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