Purple Magazine
— The Mexico Issue #36 F/W 2021

nos están matando (they’re killing us)


artwork by PIA CAMIL
all artwork courtesy of the artist and omr, mexico city, photos copyright isaac contreras

Depending on which news source you choose to trust, an average of 10 or 11 women are murdered in Mexico every day. Leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador [who came to power in December 2018] has been nothing short of callous and incompetent in failing to address this situation. After his first year in office, several states reported a near-total lack of prosecutions related to femicide, a term defined as the gender-based murder of a woman or girl by a man; one state, Baja California Sur, reported zero prosecutions. By the end of 2020, his administration had not only floundered while attempting to handle a pandemic, but also made history, adding under its belt the deadliest year for women on record.

Like everywhere else, gender inequality in Mexico is itself unequal — that is, the type and levels of oppression that women are subjected to are largely determined by class and race. In recent years, however, either out of a sense of sisterhood or the contagious nature of fear and outrage, women of all races and social classes in Mexico have come together to decry a stark reality: nos están matando — they’re killing us.

Across the country, women have staged numerous protests and riots, defacing monuments and destroying public and private property. Some of the interventions were heavily symbolic. Last year in Mexico City, the water of the Huntress Diana Fountain was dyed red, with its statue seemingly rising, nude and powerful, bow and arrow raised above her head, from a pool of bubbling blood. Others are less poetic: the shattered glass window of a KFC restaurant, a circle-A anarchist symbol spray-painted on a government building, a burning bus. Here, this is how the incandescence of women’s rage is made tangible, at least until the authorities arrive at the scene and erase it.

Positioned on a roundabout on Mexico City’s main avenue, Paseo de la Reforma, is the Angel of Independence, a golden-winged figure standing atop a stone column. In 2019, it was the final destination of a women’s march, and it became the target of the protesters’ still-overflowing fury once the demonstration was over, with the women graffitiing demands, threats, and accusations in colored spray paint on its base. Within a few hours, the city’s government had the site boarded up, and the work of restoring the monument began.

Using drone footage and photogrammetry, the artist Julieta Gil was able to stitch together images of the vandalized monument and create a 3D model of it, in an effort to preserve the memory of the event. Months later, I got to see photographs of the model in the city’s Museo Tamayo. They depict the monument stripped of its urban context, placed atop a white vinyl surface with a white backdrop, with the photos themselves tinted pink or purple. Within the museum’s pristine environment, their beauty struck me as uncanny. Ineffable horrors scrawled across a monument-turned-3D-model-turned-art. Was it not only preserving a memory, but also aestheticizing a movement? (And as I write this piece, am I?)

This is not the first time that feminist discourse has penetrated Mexican art production. In the late ’70s, the artist Mónica Mayer invited 800 women in Mexico City to complete the phrase “As a woman, what I dislike most about the city is…” on pieces of pink paper. They were then hung on a structure resembling a clothesline, referencing both a task usually relegated to women and the public display of private grievances — the airing of dirty laundry, as the saying goes. In comparison with the violent feminist protests of today, the gesture seems quaint, almost timid.

It’s impossible to know whether women here are angrier today than they were last century or the centuries before that. What’s undeniable is that our anger is surfacing now in ways it never has before. In September 2020, a feminist collective broke into Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission and declared it theirs. They converted the building into a shelter for abused girls and women, a pragmatic “fuck you” to what they perceived to be a symbol of bureaucratic ineptitude, the place where reports of abuse are filed away in metal drawer cabinets and forgotten. Images of the takeover are cinematic — women in various states of undress, abdomens and breasts bulging, faces obscured by balaclavas. Some are visibly enraged, others cool and powerful, almost cynical, as they stare down a camera. In one photograph, on a white wall behind a large mahogany desk, there’s a message daubed in black paint: “WE DON’T FORGIVE, AND WE DON’T FORGET.”

This is activism at its least palatable. It is also the first time in my life that I have witnessed feminist discourse penetrating every sphere of Mexican society, rattling it enough to split it in two: those who support the movement and those who affirm that violence cannot be solved with violence. As if one’s life and another’s property were equally sacrosanct, and as if history doesn’t show that revolutions require revolt and have never been wholly peaceful. A simple truth is that those who clutch their pearls at the sight of unseemly protests are never able to suggest a productive alternative.

How else than by creating disruption that is impossible to ignore are women supposed to seek justice? And how are we — spectators, citizens, artists, writers, women, and victims ourselves — supposed to engage with this rage? A visitor at a museum or a reader of a fashion magazine is, presumably, a person looking to consume beauty. Those of us tasked with its production often find ourselves at the guilt-ridden crux of using our platforms to provide visibility to movements that need it, while also standing to gain something as artists: recognition for our work, a name for ourselves. And so, this uncomfortable privilege puts a responsibility on the artist to remind others, those just as privileged, of the reality we collectively inhabit, the horror that chokes beauty.

Spray-painted on one of the flanks of the Angel of Independence, two words stand out for me: Fuimos Todas (We All Did This).



[Table of contents]

The Mexico Issue #36 F/W 2021

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