The Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez sits upon the U.S border and is one of the fastest growing areas in America despite the fact that it has been referred to as ‘the most violent zone in the world outside of declared war zones.’ The town and surrounding state of Chihuahua has become synonymous with gender related crime, brutal murders and the unresolved disappearances of an incredible volume of women – so much so that it is now known to locals as ‘Las Muertas de Juarez,’ The Dead Women of Juarez. The official figure stands at 400, but the number of murdered women is expected to actually be in the thousands, with more brutal crimes committed every day and with most cases remaining unsolved. Numerous protests, candlelit vigils, press conferences, concerts, documentaries, books and songs have all been undertaken and released in an attempt to draw attention to and raise awareness of the tragic issue. So what else can be done?
This month, artist Tamsyn Challenger will produce '400 Women', a mass collaboration between more than 200 artists and Amnesty International to confront and lay bare the Ciudad Juarez problem. Challenger’s idea was formed as a result from the visit to Mexico she took in 2005, where the terrible situation became explicitly apparent. The region’s grief over the violent circumstances was obvious to her, with theories and explanations over the disappearances being on everybody’s lips. Locals from the area handed her stark postcard images of their loved and lost ones in a desperate hope that they may be found, dead or alive. These simple postcards catalysed the idea of the 400 portraits to be created, with each image being presented in the traditional ‘retablo’ format – 14 inch by 10 inch religious portraits as seen so widespread in the Catholic Churches of Mexico.
Each murdered or disappeared woman will be paired with every participating artist in the collective, who, through their work will seek to represent and channel the lost and dead in order to confront the issue and challenge the injustice of the cases. It draws attention to the fact that although many thousands of individuals go missing, they lay forgotten by the masses and brushed aside by a government that seemingly doesn’t care. The investigations are all too often farcically conducted or worse, silenced by the authorities. In response to the inefficient nature that the investigations are conducted with, the exhibition serves as a voice to the voiceless and a face for the hundreds of names who have disappeared throughout the years.
There are more than 200 artists involved in the exhibition, including such names as Tracey Emin, Paula Rego, Maggi Hambling and Humphrey Ocean, who will all act as welcome exposure for this well deserved cause. An opportunity to become involved in the project will be open to the public on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th November, run by artist Lise Bjorne Linnert. By using multimedia practises to embroider the names of the deceased and disappeared onto delicate labels, we can ensure that the women of Ciudad Juarez will never be forgotten.
400 Women will run from 12th November – 28th November at Shoreditch Town Hall, London and is curated by Ellen Mara De Wachter.