Art in a time of agony: Mexican artist Valeria Gallo speaks about #IlustradoresconAyotzinapa
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Art in a time of agony: Mexican artist Valeria Gallo speaks about #IlustradoresconAyotzinapa

In the days and now weeks since the 43 students of Ayotzinapa were taken by the police on September 26, 2014, it has increasingly felt as if this particular episode of violence might become a tipping point in Mexican politics and social life. More than a month after the students’ disappearance, protesters aren’t letting up and, in fact, a number of solidarity marches have been held in cities around the world: from New York to London, and from Sydney to San Francisco.

But not all protests are taking place on the street.

Valeria Gallo, an illustrator from Mexico City, established a tumblr, #IlustradoresconAyotzinapa (#IllustratorswithAyotzinapa), where artists are venting their anger and their concern about the disappearance of the 43 students, whose whereabouts and fate are still unknown. I asked her more about the project via email.

Latin Correspondent: Are you the person who created the #IlustradoresconAyotzinapa (#IllustratorswithAyotzinapa) project?

Valeria Gallo: Yes. It occurred to me to post portraits [of the missing students]; it soon expanded beyond what I could have imagined.

LC: When did you first have the idea for this project?

VG: About three or four weeks ago. I thought first about the idea of an exhibit. I began to get in touch with close friends who are illustrators and tell them about the idea. But my partner, Alfonso Ochoa, has several years of experience working with social media and he suggested that it would be better to put together a project online– something that would be seen by more people and that could go viral. Around the time of a protest march, I felt rage about not being able to go to the march and so I picked up this idea [of the portraits] again; I began doing my portrait, the one of Benjamin [Ascencio Bautista], in embroidery thread. Then, Margarita Sada, another illustrator whom I’d invited to the project, was about to finish her portrait; she had chosen [missing student] Carlos Lorenzo Hernández.

On Friday, October 24, we posted the two portraits on Facebook and tagged more illustrators. By the end of the day we had nearly 60 or so portraits.

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Valeria’s portrait — the one that started it all. Image: IlustradoresconAyotzinapa

LC: What is your artistic background?

VG: I studied design in the School of Design of the National Institute of Fine Arts.

LC: How long did it take you to set up the tumblr and have material to post?

VG: On the night of the 24th, Alfonso set up the tumblr with the 60 images we’d gathered via Facebook.

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By Argel Gómez Concheiro. Image: IlustradoresconAyotzinapa

LC: How did you reach out to illustrators and artists to invite their participation?

VG: In the beginning, we were just four friends [who made portraits], but this took off quickly on its own via social media. There wasn’t a call to participate exactly. Rather, it was like touching the shoulder of each illustrator, like a chain, as if someone uploaded a portrait and then said to other illustrators, “Hey, it’s your turn!”

LC: How many illustrators have contributed to date?

VG: We’re going on more than 360.

LC: Are the majority of contributors professional artists?

VG: There’s a little bit of everything. There are students, professionals, famous [illustrators], and others who aren’t so famous. There are even people who don’t consider themselves illustrators.

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By Erika Malagón. Image: IlustradoresconAyotzinapa

LC: Are you still accepting illustrations?

VG: Yes, all the time. And we’re not exactly “accepting”– this is part of the reason for the [tumblr’s] success. Sometimes you don’t have to tell anyone anything– you just put it on Twitter with a hashtag and there it is. Alfonso gets online every once in a while to check on Twitter and Facebook and all of the portraits he finds, he uploads to tumblr.

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By José Quintero. Image: IlustradoresconAyotzinapa

LC: Is this the first time you have used your art as a form of protest or as a response to a social problem?

VG: Yes, it’s the first time.

LC: What has been the local reaction to the tumblr?

VG: Very good. And the proof is in the number of people who have participated.

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By Diana Angulo. Image: IlustradoresconAyotzinapa

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By Ana Victoria Calderón. Image: IlustradoresconAyotzinapa

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By Inti Ayora. Image: IlustradoresconAyotzinapa