In the first small room, a patchwork of pink threads faces you. The thin pink string, running from spools titled “Intimate Femicide,” “Child Femicide” and “ Systematic Sexual Femicide” weave a map of Mexico that binds the nation together in its complicity. Detailing the facts and figures behind the ever-present atrocity, this pretty pink block serves as a stark memorial to sickening violence that is carried out against women every single day in this country.
The current exhibition at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, “Feminicidio en México ¡Ya Basta!” (Femicide in Mexico. Enough!), is a bruising but necessary reminder of the ways and means that femicide continues uninterrupted in Mexico. The artists involved (Teresa Margolles, María de la Luz Estrada and Humberto Padgett, among others) are clear about the root cause of this violence: it is a problem that society as a whole is responsible for and has arisen from the historically unequal relations between men and women in the Mexico.
“Feminicidios en México ¡Ya Basta!” traces the beginnings of a process that runs from cat calling and shouts across the street — often viciously defended as “harmless fun” for groups of men — to the murder and disappearance of women, girls and babies. How the murder rates compare to the rates of successful convictions is harrowing to see.
In a claustrophobic hallway filled with thick, hanging rope, insults and shouts of men are streamed through the speakers. The frequently heard cry of “Chichis pa’ la banda!” (“Show your tits for the band”) is menacing, and the first experience of gender-based violence for many women.
Ana Güezmes García, the UN Women’s Representative in Mexico, has decried femicide here as a pandemic. Between 2012 and 2014, the disappearance of girls aged between zero and 17 rose by 191.8 percent, while in the same period disappearances of men rose by only 14.7 percent. Oxfam reports that violence affects seven of every 10 women in Mexico, either publicly or privately.
While these figures underscore the alarming level of violence against women in Mexico, they can often be hard to properly comprehend. The real strength of this installation is its ability to offer a firmer hold on the human consequence of this vast problem. Not only do these murders take away the lives of innocent women, they devastate families and communities, and scare others enough to stop them from speaking out about it.
In one room, pairs of red high heels inscribed with the names of disappeared women are lined up on the floor. Reminiscent of the piles of spectacles and shoes left in Auschwitz, the high heels are a nod towards both the individual victims of femicide and the wider system of inequality that condones it. Women are all too often blamed for their own deaths in Mexico, for wearing certain clothes or acting in a particular way. The implicit role of machismo in society and the police force leads to victims like Rosa Diana Suárez Padilla being held partly to blame for her own death. She was stabbed and bludgeoned to death with a rock, but had previously allowed her killer to take nude photos of her. The suggestion from the police was that she should take some responsibility.
The lack of convictions for femicide are startling. In a winding room named “The Labyrinth of Impunity,” among the stacks of similar cases, some murders are highlighted. The killers of these women have yet to be sentenced, despite the overwhelming evidence, or police refuse to review the cases, disregarded without reason, or the murderers are on the run and their whereabouts are unknown. One wonders how much is being done to apprehend them.
“Feminicidio en México ¡Ya Basta!” is running until May at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance. Entrance costs 30 pesos.
The museum is open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.