May 17, 2010 / 8:04 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. exhibition delves into murders of Mexican women

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - In the middle of a West Philadelphia art gallery, a sculpture of a naked woman lies on a low plinth.

An art work by Arlene Love is seen during an art exhibition which delves into the murders of women near the U.S.-Mexico border. REUTERS/Drexel University/Zeek Weil/Handout

The three-foot-long figure by Philadelphia artist Arlene Love is missing its right arm and leg and has a huge gash running the length of its leather-covered torso, along the side of its throat and ending near the right ear.

The gruesome effigy entitled Beverly is part of an exhibit that epitomizes the violence done to women in Juarez, Mexico, where at least 700 women have been murdered since the 1990s in a wave of often sexual violence that is highlighted by the Philadelphia show.

Ni Una Mas or “Not One More”, in the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University, uses painting, sculpture, photography and other media to draw attention to the savage killings of hundreds of women in the U.S.-Mexico border city that is better known to the outside world for its drug-related violence.

“The aim is to encourage others to action and to open their eyes, and their minds and their hearts to this poignant situation in Juarez,” said Abbie Dean, a co-curator of the exhibit that runs until July 16.

Works in the exhibit include “Heal”, by Yoko Ono. It consists of a 20-foot-wide plain canvas sheet covered with gashes and rips. Viewers are invited to repair the fabric with needle and thread on an adjacent table, in a gesture intended to symbolize the need for healing after many years of violence.

On a pink-painted wall nearby, hundreds of embroidered name tapes commemorate the victims. The tapes have been made by some 1,900 volunteers in 27 countries. The meticulous nature of embroidery represents the care shown by the volunteers toward the dead women, said the Norwegian artist Lise Linnert.

In the center of the exhibition floor there is a translucent banner in which an image of a police badge is superimposed on many reports of the murders, an image designed to show official inaction or even complicity with the killings, the organizers say.

The show is “unabashedly activist” in its intent, according to a statement from the curators, and is intended to generate international demand for a halt to the killings.

“It is open season on women in Juarez because there is no one in authority to give the murderers pause or to protect the innocent,” the curators wrote in an exhibition guide. “The faces of the perpetrators and protectors are blurred into one, and this political paralysis has made it a land of murder without debt.”

The known names of the victims line a wall at the entrance of the show. The list ends in 2006 when the Mexican government stopped releasing names, said Dean. But information from prosecutors indicates that 34 women were killed in Juarez in the first three months of 2010, a doubling over the same period of 2009, she said.

“The entire situation in Juarez is an indication that the government is no longer in control,” Dean said.

Calling the killings “femicide”, she said they surged in 1993 when the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement brought many young women to the U.S. border area near Juarez to work in “maquilladoras”, the factories set up by U.S. corporations to take advantage of cheap local labor.

“The women were easy prey,” Dean said.

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The killings may also be an “instrument of terror” in the city’s current wave of drug-related violence, she added.

Beyond the focus of the Mexican killings, the show aims to highlight violence to women in other parts of the world. It includes a sculpture commemorating the burned brides of India, young women who have died in fires set by their husbands who intend to collect a further dowry.

The show runs until July 16.

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