In 2008, the artist Swoon, known for her life-size wheatpaste prints and cutouts of figures displayed throughout the streets of New York City, created a memorial to the victims of female homicides in the northern Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez. As with many of her other pieces, this one popped up overnight on the streets of the city– this time in San Francisco!
Since 1993 an untold number of young women have been reported either missing or murdered in the border cities of Juarez and Chihuahua. Estimates range anywhere from 400 to over 5,000 women, most under the age of 25 and employees of the border’s tariff-free manufacturing facilities, or maquiladoras. Since the onset of the disappearances and murders, a number of suspects have been arrested and tried, but many of the cases remain unsolved. Numerous organizations and informal groups have formed to raise awareness, show sympathy, and encourage further investigation of the homicides.
Throughout the past decade, a number of documentaries, biographies, and collections of stories and poems have been created as memorials to the women and the tragedies of Juarez. Swoon’s piece is particularly moving because of the raw, independent nature of her work. Her work often surfaces by surprise, without warning, for the public to see on the streets of New York City, and this particular piece was first displayed in an unmonitored gallery run by an artist, rather than an art dealer, before being brought to the streets.
The original memorial was a collaboration of Swoon with documentarian and social activist Tennessee Jane Watson. The installation, in the dark, raw basement of the Honeyspace gallery, included sound recordings by Watson, and a life-size cutout by by Swoon. Another version of Swoon’s piece was displayed on a wall in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Swoon’s portrait is of Silvia Elena Rivera Morales, one of the earliest victims of the femicides. In 2008, Swoon and Watson met the girl’s mother, talked with her about Silvia Elena’s disappearance, visited the grave, and brought back photographs of the girl. The portrait depicts Silvia Elena in an elegant white gown, whose laced detailing intermingles images of beauty and death, black butterflies and skulls.
Although the memorial was left to fade with time, as with most street art, Swoon’s paper and wheatpaste portrait of Silvia Elena can still be seen at 24th and Hampshire in the Mission.
Mad About the Mural blog: https://madaboutthemural.wordpress.com/category/swoon/