From the states of Guerrero and Chiapas, where government buildings have been set on fire by protesters, to Mexico City, where marches and protests have become almost obligatory weekend activities, Mexicans seem to be saying “We’re not going to take it anymore” in the wake of the disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.
But what about Mexicans abroad who can’t be in the streets of their country, waving flags or carrying banners with messages demanding justice? While there have been street demonstrations and peaceful protests in New York City, San Francisco, Sydney, Madrid and numerous other cities around the world, many Mexican expats — and those who want to show solidarity with them — are choosing to respond to the horrors of Ayotzinapa through the arts.
Andrea Arroyo, a Mexican-American visual artist and curator who lives in New York City, is one of the people leading a pop culture response to the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero state. Arroyo, who initially felt helpless in the face of the news coming out of Mexico, says she was inspired to take creative action after watching protests in New York City’s Union Square. After talking with her friend and fellow visual artist, Victoria Roberts, who had the idea of making a virtual quilt, Arroyo and Roberts launched the bilingual visual arts project, “Tributo a Los Desaparecidos/Tribute to the Disappeared.”
Modeled on the idea of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the women are inviting artists of all genres to submit images that commemorate the loss of life in Mexico. Though it was provoked by the disappearance of the students, the intent of “Tribute” is to remember all Mexicans who have been victims of state-sponsored and drug violence.
Arroyo set up social media pages for “Tribute to the Disappeared” in November and will be launching a website in the coming days for the open-ended project.
“The power of an online project is the broad reach and immediacy; the Internet gives us the tools to gather and share art from around the world in an instant,” she said. “As soon as we launched Tribute to the Disappeared, we got an amazingly enthusiastic response, and we realized there is solidarity from around the world. We are overwhelmed by the support, and we hope to create an ongoing dialogue about social justice, and most importantly, to share creativity, love and hope.” She added that artists from as far away as Russia have shared their artwork for the quilt.
The images Arroyo and Roberts receive will be “stitched” together into a virtual quilt.
“We hope to gather the work of as many artists from around the world as possible,” said Arroyo. In addition to sharing the quilt online to make it accessible to anyone with an internet connection, Arroyo will be approaching New York galleries to discuss the possibility of a physical exhibition of the work.
“Just as the AIDS Memorial Quilt brought attention to the AIDS epidemic, we hope to bring public attention to another epidemic of innocent lives lost to the drug war, poverty and migration,” she said.
Stories hanging in the air
New York isn’t the only place where artists are issuing calls to respond to the disappearance of the students through their creative medium.
In Pittsburgh, Ichita Rodríguez, who is also from Mexico, organized and hosted an event called “Ayotzinapa’s Clothesline.” The event — equal parts exhibit, protest and information day — was held on November 20, coinciding with the global Day of Action for Ayotzinapa. Rodríguez strung four clotheslines, on which were hung white t-shirts bearing the name, image and story of each of the 43 missing students. Visitors to the exhibit were invited to write messages to the students on the back of the shirts.
For Rodríguez, it was important to have an educational and interactive component to the exhibit, not only because the site of the show was a university, but because so few people in the United States are aware of the situation involving the 43 missing students.
“All of the people who came [to the exhibit] read each and every one of the students’ stories,” said Rodríguez. “Many people had to leave the room and take a deep breath and then come back in.”
Although the show was only on display for the day, she intends to find other sites across Pittsburgh where she can install the clotheslines.
Letting music do the talking
Many visual artists have been at the forefront of the response to the Ayotzinapa case, but musicians and other creatives are speaking out as well. Hundreds of musicians, both hobbyists and professionals, have uploaded videos to YouTube in which they use the structure of the corrido, a traditional Mexican song form, to decry the injustices that have been perpetrated in Mexico — not only in Guerrero but throughout the country.
The corrido has traditionally been a way to spread news and stories by word-of-mouth; many corridos have become inscribed in the country’s musical canon.
“It’s the perfect form for talking about Ayotzinapa,” said José Luís Carrisoza of Chicago, Illinois. He and his father, José Luís Carrisoza Sr., are just two among hundreds of musicians whose corridos now pop up when YouTube users search for “corrido” “Ayotzinapa” on the video-sharing site.
For José Luís, whose father was born in Guerrero, the state where the students were disappeared, art, music, and the social media platforms on which they can be shared allow a greater awareness to spread more quickly about this and other social problems.
“It is important to do what we can from where we are,” he said.