Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Analysis of Favianna Rodriguez's "Femicidio"

Favianna Rodriguez’s “Femicidio,” address the femicide of over 350 women in La Ciudad Juarez, Mexico who have been kidnapped, raped, and killed since 1993. In a description of this piece, Rodriguez noted that “visual artists have been pivotal in bringing international attention to the crisis, but most have favored depictions of mutilated body parts to emphasize the seriousness of the crimes”(favianna.comFavianna’s work seeks to humanize the woman whose bodies were often shown as naked and bruised by the femicide. Favianna said that “As a woman, I found it problematic that victims were depicted as carnage. I instead created a piece that addressed other aspects of the issue, including how the mothers self-organized to seek justice for their missing daughters.”(favianna.com). This is a very important note because many  of the organizations that have come together to address the disappearances and murders of these women were  founded by the mothers of the victims seeking justice for the murder of their daughters. Some of the organizations include “Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa” also called May Our Daughters Return Home in English along with “Justicia para Nuestras Hijas” also referred to as Justice for our Daughters. In Rebecca Walker’s “To Be Real,” Walker speaks to the feminist community’s ability to not only redefine but also to reconfigure the female understanding of herself.

In this, the feminist community plays a pivotal role in giving life and strength to female voices.  In respect to art, feminist art should have a “social presence-as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright”(Rich 99). Adrienne Rich’s notion of art being a human birthright and her conceptualization of art as “our most powerful means of access to our own and another’s experience and imaginative life”is interconnected with the idea of feminist art serving to give voice to women (Rich 103). Giving voice entails more than simply echoing a popular idea or going along with the status quo, giving voice entails a process of listening, respecting and paying homage to those stories that are silenced. Art, especially feminist art becomes about the liberation of self, “other” and we. In  this, feminist art seeks to liberate the supposed “other” whether that other is a woman in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, etc. that is suffering or whether that women isoneself or one’s neighborhood.

Feminist art, like feminism, seeks to create a community of consciousness where all women can respect the difference of each other while maintaining individual autonomy. This is very critical because in a globalized world, there becomes a demand for homogeneity and this “sameness” forces us to create the binary between what is acceptable and what is not. Consequently, we punish what is not uniform to our mode of thinking while simultaneously arguing for diversity and multiculturalism. True diversity, then becomes different faces with similar minds, behaviors and thoughts which does not reflect diversity as much as it does cultural imperialism. As Rich stated in her piece “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts,” art is “continually rediscovering and recovering the humanity of human beings, art is crucial to the democratic vision “(Rich 103) Thus, art is directly linked to democracy- the less art and artistic freedom there is, the less freedoms the public have in their democracy. Favianna’s role as an artist transcends this label and extends into the role of social activism. Favianna is able to combat stereotypes and bring light to issues facing women on every corner of the world, by doing this she interlocks the experiences of women as shared but unique.

Favianna serves as a universal teacher of not only her own culture but also to cultures of other women. As mentioned in Riche’s “Claiming an Education,” studies of feminism “is the experience of taking responsibility toward your selves”(Rich 26). Essentially, by educating her communities and other communities of the atrocities committed in the U.S and abroad, Rodriguez has become an important source of feminist study. Favianna’s “Femicidio” explores the intersectionality of race, class, gender and sexuality.  The piece is profound because while it speaks to the women of Juarez, the depiction of the women remain open so that any women across race have accessibility to them. The women in the  factory worker uniform speaks to the situation with the women being from the lower class and the social repercussions of being in that class. Alongside, being both Mexican and poor, they were women which added to the insufficient amount of attention paid to the story. The portrayal of the women reaching toward the sign of the “Desaparecida” also evokes the sentiment of sadness and despair.This image is also tied into the portrait of the mother and the little girl holding the picture of their loved one who had disappeared. The overall tone of the piece is not just inequality and despair but also one of hope. The purple and pink undertones bring a life to the piece which transcends simply a piece of remorse. Favianna is paying homage to not only the woman but also their mothers who have worked hard for justice. Favianna ends the piece with “Women Workers of the World Unite and Fight” which gives some agency to the audience to act to not only stop what is happening in Juarez but also she directs attention to the universality of the problem. Like many other artists, examined this year Favianna seeks to speak to the larger feminist community.

Similar to Judy Chicago, Favianna is seeking to push the ideas that first we as women conceptualize and then impose on ourselves. Second, I think that different from Chicago, Favianna seeks to expand the class of women with whom she relates to. In Chicago’s work “The Dinner Party” all the women that were involved in the production process were white women, probably middle class and heterosexual. Thus Chicago’s piece while it was seeking to give voice to women, it was specific about which women were essentially being given the privilege to speak. More importantly, than the production process was the product itself which calls into question which women are seen as feminists and which aren’t. It also poses the question of who is invited to sit at the
table of feminism and who is excluded. Both Judith Baca and Favianna have covered topics surrounding the strength of Mexican women and their resiliency in the face of stark opposition. In Baca’s “La Memoria de Nuestra Tierra,” english translation- The Memory of Our Land, Baca speaks to the vast and wonderful history of Chicano people. Baca noted that the community was largely her inspiration in doing mural art. During an interview with KPBC she said that:
I saw in the neighborhoods of Los Angeles people using the walls to speak about political issues and it was the 1960s as I came out of the university, and a movement was in process for social justice for women, for Latinos, for Native Americans, for African-Americans, and I was more – most interested in how my art could serve the change, the change toward the positive(KPBS).
Thus both Baca and Ravianna endeavor to use their art to promote no only communal change but also a change in the way art is viewed for all people.

The art piece Femicido by Favianna Rodriguez depicts an aspect of the femicide in La Ciudad Juarez not usually publicized in femicide awareness campaigns.  The mother’s of disappeared victims is the focus of this piece.  This is highly effective in raising awareness of the ripple affect that violence has on families and society. This piece is extremely emotionally compelling because it shows the audience families of missing and/or deceased victims.  The work is very similar to other works by Rodriguez because it attempts to bring awareness to a group of people that have been marginalized by mainstream society, which seems to be a common theme in all of Rodriguez’s work. Social change is another goal in Rodriguez’s work, from the progressive clients that her successful for-profit business caters to, to her involvement in a number of non-profit groups, many of which she helped to found. The subject of this particular piece was discussed at length in class during our own discussion of femicide in La Ciudad Juarez. The femicide in La Ciudad Juarez has brought up discussion of women and women’s bodies, which has included the idea that women have become a disposable commodity. In Joanna Frueh’s essay "The Body Through Women’s Eyes," she explores how the “idealizations of the female body reflect and enforce cultural desires about woman’s beauty and sexuality, her social place and power”(190). The idea that idealizations have a profound impact on the larger society can be applied to the femicide seen in La Ciudad Juarez. Since there has been such little response and effort from law enforcement to prevent and investigate the violence on women, one could argue that this creates an unhealthy mindset that establishes the ideal that woman are disposable, unimportant, undeserving of financial investment, and each time a violent act is committed against a woman and it goes unsolved, this ideal is reinforced.

Previous art campaigns that attempt to raise awareness surrounding the femicide in La Ciudad Juarez have depicted graphic images of women’s body parts and Rodriguez deliberately did not do this her piece Femicido, her reasoning mentioned previously. Her choice to not depict women’s body parts, and instead focus on the families and society affected by the violence of women. The mother depicted in the picture putting up the poster of her missing daughter is an after effect of the brutal violence enacted on women. The mother and daughter pictured in the lower right hand corner bring up a deep sadness for these women’s loss and their inability to receive justice. The picture also shows a factory worker printing out a material that says “No NAFTA”. NAFTA stands for the “North American Free Trade Agreement”, which did away with tariffs on imports and exports between the U.S Mexico, and Canada. This has caused an abundance of multinational corporations, many U.S based, to come to La Ciudad Juarez and build factories. These factories have thrived due to, “favorable tax treatment, pay low wages (sometimes as low as $4.21 a day), and take advantage of worker training sponsored by the local government” (Power). However nothing has been done on these multi-billion dollar companies parts to increase security for its workers or promote affordable housing near factories so single women would not have to commute from hours away, a time where many women are abducted and murdered. Chair of the History Department at University of Texas El Paso Emma Perez states “ "When people say this is Mexico's business and we should stay out of it, they don't recognize that there are binational relationships when it comes to trade and commerce…Of the border factories in Juarez, 80 percent are U.S.-owned. NAFTA had a lot to do with them coming here. So we also have to take responsibility for the workers in those factories that are being killed" (Nieves). Rodriguez is making a significant statement on this issue declaring that NAFTA should be done away with. She declares at the bottom of the poster, “Women workers of the world unite and fight!” calling to action all women workers.

Works Cited

"Chicana Muralist Judith Baca Creates Walls Of Public Memory."
   KPBS. KPBS Public Broadcasting, 22 Oct 2009. Web. 14 May

Frueh, Joanna. "The Body Through Women's Eyes." The Power of
   Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, History and
   Impact. By Norma Broude, Mary D. Garrard, and Judith K.
  Brodsky. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1994. 190-207. Print.

Nieves, Evelyn. "To Work and Die in Juarez." Mother Jones. May
    2002. Web. May 2012.

Power, Christopher. "U.S Companies Are Still Rushing to Juarez."
   Bloomberg Businessweek. 10 June 2010. Web. May 2012.

Rich, Adrienne. "Claiming an Education" in The End of
    Feminism’s Thirdwave, Ms. Magazine. p.25-27.Winter. 2004.
    Web. 30 Aug 2011.

Rich, Adrienne. “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts”
    in Arts of the Possible: Essays in Conversation, p. 98-103.

Rodriguez, Favianna. Femicido. Digital Image. Stacy Asher. Web. May 2012. <http://stacyasher.com/pdf/art390_project_01/sarah_projectone.pdf>.

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