The heart of the femicide epidemic can be found in Latin America and is sorely felt in Mexico, the country where I come from. Like any epidemic really, it can be largely attributed to an ignorant, hostile society and a silent, complicit government. Also like any other epidemic, it can be described as a plague that uncovers and exposes the underlying fabric that permits inequalities which stem from hierarchic systems that heavily suppress and destroy sectors of society in a deliberate fashion. The necropolitics of the Mexican femicide crisis can be debated at length as a matter of calculated cruelty, a horrifying phenomenon that for a very long time remained unspoken about, a quiet whisper between women who have suffered from gendered violence at different degrees throughout their lives, but I digress. The matter that has brought it to light, the reason why I am writing this piece is because it is now something Mexican (among other Latin American) women have brought to the forefront of national and international attention. The reality of the situation is no surprise to those of us who have lived in an environment that encourages sexist behaviors on a tremendous level, a crisis that has particularly affected women who exist on the margins of society (again, like most epidemics do) but is now something that, like Angela Davis might say, we can no longer accept.
Coming from a Latin American context and living in St Andrews, I often find my realities are hardly ever noticed or discussed (even in my conversations with other Latinx students on campus). Interestingly, I find that creating visibility for issues like this one on campus is not only a step towards including my cultural region and context into our education, but a massive necessity to generate the solidarity Latinx women feel is lacking internationally, especially from Western women. When I have come to mention these issues they often generate a series of mortified responses, with the main one being a shock. How have I not heard of this before? Visibility, for a lot of protest movements, has been the difference between fading out into the distance over time or creating and inspiring change everywhere. Media coverage matters, and since this issue is hardly covered by it (nationally and internationally alike) I feel it is important we as students diversify our intake of it to make ourselves in turn aware and intersectional alike. Giving a spotlight and visibility to many Latinx women could mean the difference between life and death.
Waves of protest have taken the streets by storm for the past few years in particular, women raising their fists, their green and purple handkerchiefs creating a visual culture with which the Latinx feminist movement is popularly associated today. Social media (my own anyway) has been flooded with images of purple flowers, emerald backgrounds, and pink text imploring for women to join in the radical uprooting of the patriarchal norms they have known all their lives. Rage fuelled sentiment lies behind these aesthetically pleasing graphics—one I have found particularly different to the #GirlBoss Buzzfeed feminism that the West has normalized and simplified into a passing trend in recent years.
Women’s March protests in the U.S. do not carry with them the presence that Mexican feminist protests have in recent years, with graffiti covered monuments, fire, and tear stained faces nowexisting as an icon of progress for us rather than clean cut pictures of smiling women carrying posters and shirts that say “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” (made by Bangladeshi sweatshop workers, I assume). There is a feeling of underlying desperation, a need for change that carries the Latin American feminism of Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less), a movement that grieves and demands more, specifically unique in its response. Ni Una Menos is about both mourning and militancy, disruption at the expense of comfort, and with it has come a great deal of controversy.
The monument itself has become the principal location of debate surrounding feminist protest in Mexico, its immaculate and sacrosanct nature exposed as merely fabricated as it is covered in spray paint for everyone to see. “Femicidal state” and “ACAB” among other eye catching phrases coat buildings and symbolic statues in the visually recognizable purples and greens of Latin American feminism, something openly called crude and disgusting by more conservative circles that did not care twice to look at a monument before it was vandalized in the first place. The monument is a site that venerates the status quo, values carved in stone and metal on pedestals, and feminist protesters are here to disrupt those same values that have permitted a crisis to carry out in suffering silence for decades on end. For this reason, I come to see this graffiti as a work of art myself, ephemeral in nature, but a visual symbol of protest that carries massive significance. Artwork need not be written in permanent weightiness, but rather exists as a catalyst to push forward innovation and change, a conversation—and the protesters crying out for a move from the status quo have unequivocally done so themselves.
This year’s Women’s Day protest on the March 8 in Mexico City saw the government prepare for the protest—not by seeking to protect women, bettering legislation, educating, or facilitating the process of reporting femicide, but instead by building a wall outside of the Palacio Nacional (our equivalent of a White House) in the center of the city. They protected the monument of the Angel of Independence, a beacon of hope and equality, with metal fences the way they had done the year before. The police were on high alert, as per usual.
Taking to the streets once again, the women of Ni Una Menos were outraged at this move by the government, understandably so. Undeniably exposing the femicide crisis as a matter of necropolitics, the government shows itself incredibly capable of protecting buildings, monuments, and property, but astounding omniscience and inefficiency in protecting women. The move was perceived as a demonstration of an understanding of the severity of the issue, the validity and strength of the anger of a population exhausted of living in fear- and a deliberate choice to ignore it. The wall built outside of the Palacio Nacional was a visual illustration of negligence as much as it was a symbol of complicity, a monument to the status quo and ergo to the society that permits and promotes femicide.
The response of the women who saw this move was visually translated into lists of the names of women, victims of femicide, written in white paint on the makeshift wall. Images were added on gradually by different people, the process that created the final product was fundamentally anarchic as a group collective effort. Neon silhouettes and Roman Catholic crosses filled the spaces between the names, again occupying the space that was deliberately set up for the exclusion of women and their lives from mainstream socio-political concern. They gave a face, dignity, and integrity to the women who died, and spat on the space separating marginalized individuals from governmental priority, space that categorized them as a trendy, fringe concern that was to be treated with palliatives rather than direct action. This powerful visual was set on a backdrop of a projected message on the night before March eighth—in bold and capital letters “México Feminicida” (Femicidal Mexico). This could be seen as an attempt to eliminate that space as well, providing a glaring (if spectral) presence onto the living space of the president through the projected message so that he could no longer ignore it. Fires burned across the Zócalo, messages were written in chalk and pain across the floor, and a need for urgency above all else lit the protestssomething that might be read as its own form of performance art itself.
The community efforts of Ni Una Menos to create a visual language and culture have formed a recognizable spectacle to all those who know of the femicide crisis in Mexico, a phenomenon that should be granted its own space within our contemporary cultural oeuvre. Though completely removed from an auteur, the conceptual, democratic nature of what I personally would class as artworks show the world of art moving in its own direction—from the individual to the collective. Why is the monument venerated as a symbol of freedom, but efforts to question it not? Why are they instead observed as trashy, temporary, garish, and unnecessary? Challenging the static conception of art, granting these protest movements artistic merit themselves might be the first step to answering these questions. It might also be a step towards dismantling the system that permits this inherently violent status quo to exist.