The subject of femicide in Mexico is old news to many who are familiar with this North American country. However, in late January 2017, the excellently curated Museo Memoria y Tolerancia in Mexico City opened a new temporary exhibition dealing with the subject which, put simply, means the killing of women for being women.
These are my reflections on Feminicidios en México: Ya Basta!, one of the most beautifully curated, incredibly informative and deeply touching exhibits I’ve ever seen and why I think it was one of the best exhibitions to see in Mexico City.
Feminicidios en México: ¡Ya Basta!
First walking up to the second floor where the exhibition takes place I remember thinking it looked so small from the outside that I was going to be disappointed with how little there was to see. How wrong I was. The deceptively superficial entrance conceals behind it a wealth of art installations, information and multimedia pieces that left me feeling winded by the time I came out an hour later.
The first thing you’re met with, after the definition of femicide printed starkly on the wall next to the entrance, is a striking map of Mexico crisscrossed with thread in various shades of pink and red. On closer inspection, this aesthetically gorgeous piece is actually a visual representation of the prevalence of femicide in various parts of Mexico. The practically impenetrable web of string around Ciudad Juárez, the notorious northern border town, and the State of Mexico is chilling.
As me and my friend, who is, incidentally, from Ciudad Juárez himself, were ushered into the exhibition, we stopped to take in the (entirely Spanish) captions and definitions littering the walls of this at times uncomfortably narrow exhibition. They detail the stages of violence and aggression, both physical and emotional, that often culminate in the most horrendous consequence of all – death. However, it’s not the words that truly move you in Feminicidios en México: ¡Ya Basta!, but rather the art installations.
20% of the victims were killed by their partner.
The audio-visual installation Pesquisas by prolific Mexican artist Teresa Margolles was definitely the one that I found hardest to bear. When we entered, there wasn’t a soul in sight and that allowed for the full brutality of the photo collage to hit me square in the gut. Collated from real life ‘Missing’ posters, taken from the streets of Ciudad Juárez over a 20+ year period, the now weather-worn and defaced faces of femicide victims stare out at you from the wall. It really hits home that the figures people often throw around when discussing this horrendous crime are not just numbers, but innocent women and girls who were murdered simply for their sex.
Following this room, you move into the aptly named Laberinto de la Impunidad (Labyrinth of Impunity) which details femicide and impunity in Mexico. You enter through a blood red corridor and battle through a sea of ropes, before entering an uncomfortably crowded maze of box files, shelves and folders, some of which can be taken down and perused. The faces of 25 victims stare down at you once again from the walls, although this time you’re greeted with the details of each case. Only one aggressor from the 25 cases faced justice.
One particular case stood out – that of 17-year-old Samaí Alejandra Salgado who was two months pregnant with her partner’s child when she was killed by a hired hitman. It was her partner (a married man) who had paid the man MXN$5000 (around £200/$250) to kill her, not wishing to cause problems in his marriage.
After the unresolved cases and literal dead ends of the Labyrinth of Impunity you move through to a room featuring the unresolved trauma these families suffer as a direct result of femicide. In a jarringly spacious room, you’re confronted by photos of the empty bedrooms once occupied by femicide victims that have remained untouched ever since.
Finally, the exhibition concludes with a brightly lit space curated by Cintia Bolio, which is plastered with campaign posters and quotes about the brutal acts of femicide that occur across both Mexico and Latin America. They feature the viral hashtags #VivasNosQueremos and #NiUnaMenos, which took off after the feminicidios of women in Argentina early last year and focus on the movements that are working to combat this brutal phenomenon.
Perdonen las molestias pero nos están matando.
A row of bright red shoes line the floor next to the final video of the exhibition, a harrowing recording of an unidentified man beating ‘to death’ a piñata shaped like a woman, symbolic of the ingrained acts of violence that are present within all levels of Mexican society.
The centre of the room is dominated by a spiral, detailing once again the steps that often lead up to femicide in Mexico, advising the viewer to be aware of the warning signs.
Finally, in a nice touch, there’s a HeForShe booth where you can sign up for email notifications from the feminist organisation and give your own opinion on the state of women’s rights in your respective country.
Overall, as well as literally forcing you to come face to face with the victims of this crime, this art exhibition-cum-PSA faces you to confront the reality of the deeply machista Mexican society that has allowed femicide to flourish. From the empty bedrooms to the haunting stares of both the victims and their bereaved families, Feminicidios en México: ¡Ya Basta! is a poignant, stark and deeply impactful look at a darker side of being female in Mexico.
Information about Femicide in Mexico
As mentioned above, femicide (or feminicidio in Spanish) is the killing of women simply for being women, and is more formally referred to as a ‘sex-based hate crime’. The exhibit runs you through the different types of femicide, from intimate femicide (which is committed by someone with whom the victim had a relationship, sexual or otherwise), to stigmatised profession femicides (the victims of whom are often sex workers, but also dancers and waitresses).
In 80% of the cases, the victim knew their aggressor.
How many victims of femicide are there per day?
Honestly, the femicide in Mexico statistics are truly shocking, but not that surprising; there are supposedly seven femicide victims per day in Mexico, and while my friend didn’t believe that figure could actually be real, I most certainly could. The states most heavily associated with femicide are undoubtedly the State of Mexico and Chihuahua, the latter of which counts border town Ciudad Juárez as one of its most notorious hotspots and is the only Mexican state to not categorise feminicidio as a crime. In fact, the rate of femicide in the State of Mexico a few years ago reached such critical levels that it was declared a national emergency.
Yet, while these states are by far and away the most notorious, femicide is a countrywide phenomenon; from Jalisco,, to popular tourist destination Quintana Roo, these are not isolated incidents. In fact, I once had an English student in Guadalajara who told me the story of how her cousin was found chopped into pieces and stuffed in a suitcase at the side of a road in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Everyone in the room offered condolences, but no one looked surprised.
While the main focus of the exhibition is on the murder of femicide victims, there are also some striking facts presented about women’s rights as a whole in Mexico. While seven women per day are murdered, another 14% of the population have been assaulted by their partner, while 43% have suffered psychological abuse and 7% sexual abuse.
Is femicide a Mexican phenomenon?
Mexico is by no means the only place in which femicide occurs – Latin America as a whole suffers from high rates of femicide, something which is attributed to the amount of drug trafficking and organised crime in the continent. However, femicides go beyond Latin America and are very much a global issue.