Ayotzinapa: Grieving through art

Artists, directors, and writers have created art pieces to remember the missing students

Grieving through art: The artists who paid homage to the Ayotzinapa students
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei poses next to his exhibition - Photo: Germán Espinosa/EL UNIVERSAL
English 24/09/2019 16:51 Sonia Sierra Mexico City Actualizada 17:02

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The images of the 43 Ayotzinapa students have become an icon all over the world. Artists such as Francisco Toledo and Ai Weiwei have paid homage to them through their art.

Since September 2014, society, artists, writers, filmmakers, actresses, and actors condemned the tragic event and created murals, performances, plays, documentaries, poems, books, installations, and exhibitions to denounced and expose the reigning violence in Mexico and remember one of the most tragic events in Mexican history. Through art, the 43 Ayotzinapa students and their story have traveled all over the world.

Poet David Huerta wrote the poem titled “Ayotzinapa,” after a request from painter Francisco Toledo. Huerta has said that he thinks those verses no longer belong to him: “They are (owned by” the community that supports with their solidarity, all over the world, the parents of the murdered and disappeared students in Iguala.” The poem was shared by Asymptote and published in several languages.

In December 2014, Francisco Toledo flew kites featuring the images of the 43 students in Oaxaca. The artists said that “in the Isthmus (people) fly kites so that the souls come down to (earth) through the thread.”

For the curator of the University Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC), Cuauhtémoc Medina, what Toledo dis was to “not to follow the normative framework of what we understand as a protest in Mexico. He challenged the social myth, he attracted a practice that is linked to culture, Indigenous (culture), showing how grief is expressed.”

Level of confidence,” created by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, is another memorable piece created to remember the Ayotzinapa students. In his website, the artist says “the project consists of a face-recognition camera that has been trained to tirelessly look for the faces of the disappeared students. As you stand in front of the camera, the system uses algorithms to find which student's facial features look most like yours and gives a "level of confidence" on how accurate the match is, in percent,” the description adds that “the biometric surveillance algorithms used, -Eigen, Fisher, and LBPH-, are typically used by military and police forces to look for suspicious individuals whereas in this project they are used to search for victims instead.”

Lozano-Hemmer's piece has been sold to the MUAC and the Giverny Museum, and the profits were donated to the victims' families. In regards to the piece, the artist says it is not an art piece but a political and critical strategy.

The MUAC has also actively supported the victims' parents and has organized talks and exhibitions with them on several occasions. One of the exhibitions was titled “I won't get tired;” the name comes from the phrase said by the former Attorney General, Jesús Murillo Karam, who said “I'm tired” during a press conference about the Ayotzinapa students.

Two other exhibitions organized by the MUAC are Forensic Architecture and Reestablishing Memories. Medina explains that “Forensic Architecture generated an extremely ambitious digital platform, using the data about that night in Iguala and has an evident conclusion: visually show the impossibility of the so-called historical truth.”

The curator explained that Forensic Architecture motivated Ai Weiwei to create Reestablishing Memories, which is still exhibited at the MUAC. There was an unplanned meeting between Ai Weiwei and the victims' parents at the Prodh center, which prompted him to create the exhibition and create a film that will be released in 2020.

Director Enrique García Meza created the documentary “Ayotzinapa, The Turtle's Way” a few days after the student's disappearance. It was produced by Bertha Navarro and Guillermo del Toro and its currently available on Netflix.

“We didn't want to make a pamphlet. I feel a little frustrated, I wanted the documentary to hug (sic) the parents but half of them haven't watched it; they say: 'I don't want to see it because I'm going to cry'; 'I don't want to see my child there but I'm thankful that you did (the documentary).' I wanted to be very careful, it's not about promoting myself, it's to promote Ayotzinapa and this story,” says the director.

The playEdipo's tears” links the Greek myth to the tragedy of Julio César Mondragón, the student who was skinned.

“The Ayotzinapa case means a lot of things, says Cuauhtémoc Medina. It was the moment when social distance and indifference disappeared. It linked the moment of protest and cultural production and has become a world reference, a litmus test of the trial of the Peña government, characterized by a mixture of apathy, lack of empathy and the racism and classicism with which violence is discussed in this country. We have a clear difference between those lives that are grieved and those who aren't. Ayotzinapa has been very important in the history of representation, it is a case that has to do with the importance of the relationship between politics and visual arts and the way in which images are building our time. The brutal and incomparable image of the skinned (student), Julio César Mondragón, is one of the most significant events in the visual history of this country. It's the shame that this country represents. His face is one of the most immediate summaries of what this country means.”

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