2. Exhibition

Counter-Archives to the Narco-City is a curatorial project on art and human rights that seeks to make visible the underlying structures and experiences of everyday life in cities of the global south that offer alternative views to the spectularization of narco-violence in the Americas. For the first edition of the show, we will feature the work of  Adriana Corral and Alma Leiva on the counter-archives of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico and San Pedro Sula in Honduras. This first exhibit will take place August 16 to December 13, 2015 at the Snite Museum of Art with a collaborative site-specific installation at the Notre Dame Center for Art & Culture in October 2015. 

Project Description: Ciudad Juárez (Mexico) and San Pedro Sula (Honduras) are the two deadliest cities in the world, home to industrials centers, migration points, and thriving narco-economies that corrupt state power and terrorize everyday life.However they are not isolated cases in the Latin American region but most visible symptom of an exponential wave of violence affecting the whole region. Approximately forty of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world are in the Americas. With the dispersion and growth of drug cartels and their connections with transnational gangs, cities such as Ciudad Juárez and San Pedro Sula have become capitals of extortion, murder, drug trafficking and violation of human rights. The hypervisibility of public violence in these cities as mediated through television, newspapers, and street warfare highlights bloody interactions between drug traffickers, gang members, young women, police officers, politicians, and hired gunmen. This widely circulated visual discourse has constituted indeed spectacular archives of a narco-imagery while rendering invisible the structural processes that sustain the violence and its everyday forms of resistance. In turn, the proposed curated exhibition intends to show the other face of the problem by exploring two counter-archives of these murder capitals. Through the visual production of U.S.-based visual artists Alma Leiva (b. 1975) and Adriana Corral (b. 1983), this exhibition aims to depart from the spectacle and beautification of death to position, instead, the voices of those who live intimately with violence in contemporary Latin America.

Uncovering the official narco-archives, there exists a world of pain inhabited by the victims of a civil war: dead women, undocumented immigrants, and young people at the mercy of criminal organizations, and broken families. Counter-Archives to the Narco-City tells the story of these people; Corral and Leiva’s works mourn and denounce their loss while retracing their footsteps and making them alive again by honoring their memory. With differing yet complementary aesthetics, these artists engage in research-based conceptual practices that underline forms of visual activism, which inject renewed interest in autobiography, affect, memory, trauma, resilience, borders, migration, third world feminism, neoliberalism and the drug trade into contemporary art. Unlike other artistic explorations rendering violence in a spectacular and anonymous way, the work of Leiva and Corral engage with the silent stories of specific subjects. Not only do they depart from the spectacle of death, their work highlights the ability to cope with adversity and negotiate trauma while creating social awareness. In addition, they interrogate spatial politics by viewing the narco-city as a global city, with an established illicit economy whose vast network of supply, demand, and distribution renders us all complicit and connected to this violence.

The exhibition section devoted to Alma Leiva will stage Celdas, a photographic series highlighting the practice of everyday life in the domestic sphere in opposition to the external threat of narco-terror in San Pedro Sula. In these works, she constructs meticulous sets of the interior of working class Honduran homes where she stages absurd interventions that bring the outside world inside. Through these haunting juxtapositions she dwells on the living spaces, the vernacular architecture, the mourning and the rage of becoming a prisoner in one’s own home. Her urban interiors, devoid of figures, deny us the voyeurism of experiencing them as pseudo-ethnographic dioramas by providing a single viewpoint from a specific angle, which she captures in her photograph. This series enacts the counter-archives of collective trauma by contesting the official representations in television and print culture that only capture the public sphere as if the violence did not seep inside. Drawing on affect, memory and trauma, Leiva’s photographs overwhelm us with intimacy and challenge our understanding of the narco-city.

Adriana Corral’s section will feature installations from her series Campo Algodón reflecting on autobiographical narratives and violent events that have taken place along the US-Mexico border.  This series researches the femicidios (women murders) in Ciudad Juárez, specifically the ones on the case of Campo Algodón (2001) where the bodies of eight young girls were found violently murdered in a cotton field in the center of town. Through collaboration with the prosecutor who defended three of the victim’s families in Human Rights International Courts, she was given access to legal classified documents, which became the basis for this series. Her wall installations use a printmaking technique to transfer the text from these documents and layer them through repeated action. The final result is a blurred image that draws in the viewer but mimics the inscrutability and erasure associated with these crimes. Her newest work blurs the boundaries with performance by enacting mourning rituals in which she burns copies of the documents and scatters the ashes over aerial maps of Ciudad Juárez, pinpointing specific locations of mass graves. There are no specific reasons to account for the continued murders of women, but this gendered violence has become a characteristic of the narco-city. Corral’s work enacts a counter-archive by dwelling on Campo Algodón, the purposeful amnesia of the city, the counter-memory of these girls, and a broken legal system that obscures state violence.

Tatiana Reinoza and Luis Vargas-Santiago, exhibition co-curators

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