Feminist art to express causes and heal wounds

By Celia Guerrero, Cristina Salmerón and Eugenia Coppel

Individually or forming groups, independently or with public funds, women have managed to open up spaces in various artistic disciplines. Hand in hand with feminist movements in Mexico illustrators, muralists, performance artists, graffiti artists, artisans, documentary makers and tattoo artists have burst onto the streets, museums, galleries and universities to express their political and social causes.

In this special, we visit a feminist market in Nezahualcóyotl, State of Mexico; We toured spaces colored by women in Guadalajara; We learned the reasons for the street actions and interventions on monuments in Mexico City. They, the artists, tell us how they express the structural violence experienced by women in this country, but also how through these actions they literally or metaphorically weave networks, help each other, accompany each other and heal.

Art in CDMX: a hug for women, a confrontation with patriarchy

The Angel of Independence, one of the most important symbols of Mexico City, was fenced in August 2019 after the pints that were left at the base of the monument after the feminist demonstrations. Those graffiti that represented the rage of the women who demand justice for the violence were made invisible with boards.

Irasema Fernández, writer, visual artist and feminist activist decided to go days later along with some colleagues to upholster those boards with posters. “The police abuse, rape and kill”, it is read around the drawing of a plaque of the capital’s police. “Let’s stop calling sexual abuse stories ‘private life’ and ‘family secrets’,” reads another on the side. A third, changed the verses of a prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven. Father of rape, Father of racism, Father of misogyny, Father of pedophilia … Make your patriarchy sterile. Amen”. These pieces are part of the Mobile Narratives series, created by Irasema.

It is a project that mixes writing and street action. “It arises when I leave my safe space and take those confrontational messages outside,” he says in an interview from Germany, where he is currently developing other pieces of his work.

Intervention ‘Blood of my blood’. SPECIAL / Courtesy Collective Threads

Although feminist art has existed in Mexico for decades, it was a couple of years ago that there was a boom, especially in the field of graphics made by women. From illustrators to muralistas, performanceras O tattoo artistsBoth on the physical and virtual levels, women felt the need to create support networks, to demonstrate outside individual spaces to express their political and social causes.

One of the pioneers of the movement in Mexico is Mónica Mayer, who has been in feminist art for almost 50 years. She is the author of one of the most representative works called El tendedero, which is aesthetically striking, but is also collaborative, reflective and cathartic and has been taken up to denounce violence against women.

For El tendedero, Mayer invited 800 women to complete the sentence: “As a woman, what I dislike most about the city is…” on pieces of pink paper. Each response was mounted on a structure that alluded to this sexualized object as feminine and domestic, but that seeks to establish a dialogue about the violence experienced by women in the public space of Mexico City.

This piece was presented for the first time in a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and a second version was made in Los Angeles, California, in 1979 within Suzanne Lacy’s Making it Safe visual project. The legacy of Mónica Mayer, who is still active in art, also gives rise to the Mutua project, an experimental community that develops artistic and pedagogical projects. One of them bears the name Cleaning the glass ceiling.

With a similar spirit, but from the newest museum that the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has, Brillantinas MUAC was born. It is a collective with the idea of ​​maintaining an artistic program with a gender perspective in a digital environment, but with the intention of jumping to the physical whenever possible.

Natalia Millán, artist and cultural manager at the University Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC), speaks in an interview about this project that has been developed for some years, but was born out of necessity in April 2020. “The line is art with a gender perspective, Well, we integrate feminisms and we make coalitions with queer movements. It was born as a call to unite feminist movements and women in general who were vulnerable to confinement ”.

In Brillantinas MUAC they do research work, give workshops, act as a laboratory, create positive actions for art with a gender perspective. They are part of social networks, a space where there is that freedom and that power of not needing a management, a curatorship or a bureaucratic process for the work to exist or for it to be shown. The name Brillantinas alludes to the time that, in a feminist protest in August 2019, in the pure style of a perfomatic act, women threw pink diamond at Jesús Orta, then head of the Secretariat of Citizen Security of Mexico City. “It is a poetic idea of ​​the collective voice, that if they joined all the girls who have been fighting and they move to an object, it would be a few kilos of glitter; where each thing that one does contributes to that group that has weight and shines ”, explains Natalia Millán.

The importance of art that invites conversation

“Do women have to be naked to enter the Met Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female ”, dictates a famous poster of the Guerrilla Girls collective, a group of anonymous American artists created in 1984. Since then, With their art and protest, they opened the doors to campaigns that sought the “conscience of the art world”, a phrase with which they called themselves.

Both in Mexico and in different parts of the world, graphics have been very important in social movements. Illustration and drawing are a communicating vessel that can represent not only ideas, but feelings. “This has been very important in feminisms and now in social networks like Instagram, which has empowered girls who are showing their work there,” acknowledges Millán.

“A couple of years ago, networks began to be woven in literary and artistic circles to specifically address gender issues. We began to name violence that we knew were there, but we had not recognized them punctually or massively in the experience of others. This first meeting (in 2019, the year of the Mexican #MeToo) made me see the importance and greatness of the problem, at the same time, the importance of creating ties and community ”, assures Irasema Fernández.

One of its lines of action has been to confront. Irasema Fernández’s work is inspired in part by that of Sonia Madrigal, who has worked in the Nezahualcóyotl area, east of the State of Mexico. His work leaves the museum and “explores different visual narratives to reflect, personally and collectively, on the body, violence and territory,” he explains in his biography.

Although she has exhibited in closed spaces, Irasema’s greatest interest has been the street, since that is where she leaves the “privilege of the cultural sphere”, as she calls it. “Working with Sonia Madrigal painting a fence in Santa Clara Coatitla, Edomex, was an immediate impact with the people on the street; they saw how we were intervening in the public space, they discussed it, celebrated it or even censored it, but for me it was something revealing that there was dialogue with art ”.



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