Seven Contemporary Mexican Artists Interpret the Unthinkable in “Crónicas”

Northern Mexico’s drug war—an internal battle pitting shifting alliances of trafficking cartels, soldiers, and police, with citizens often caught in the crossfire—has ravaged Ciudad Juarez and the rural Juarez Valley since 2008, generating a body count estimated at close to 50,000 and saddling the territory with the unfortunate sobriquet “Valley of Death.” International media coverage, including the Observer’s February 2012 cover story “The Deadliest Place in Mexico,” has documented the violence.

“Crónicas: Seven Contemporary Mexican Artists,” a new exhibit on display Feb. 1 through March 9 in Houston as part of FotoFest 2013, foregoes documentation for interpretation through the eyes of seven young Mexican artists and photographers, three of whom—Jorge Arreola Barraza, Fernando Brito, and Marcela Rico—are represented in the slide show above.

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Barraza’s “Daño Colateral—Espacio Vacio” (“Collateral Damage—Empty Space”) reacts to the violence of the photographer’s hometown Juarez through its empty abandonment, exemplified by billboards left blank as the local economy crashed under the weight of conflict.

Photojournalist Brito’s series “Tus Pasos se Perdieron con el Paisaje” (“Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape”) is conceived as a personal side-project to the newspaper photography of his day job. Brito photographs the corpses of murder victims as almost incidental elements of the larger landscapes—often beautiful—in which they have been discarded.

Marcela Rico photographs landscapes as well—the terrain of her childhood in the state of Sinaloa. But rather than found corpses, Rico populates her otherwise natural vistas with “violent gestures” in smoke, fire, and sculpture, artist-induced detonations that stand in for the drug-violence disruptions that have invaded Rico’s home turf.

These photos, alongside work by Miguel Aragon, Edgardo Aragon Diaz, Ivete Lucas, and Pedro Reyes, are on display at 1113 Vine Street in Houston through March 9. For more information, see the “Crónicas” page on the www.fotofest.org.

Former Observer managing editor Brad Tyer currently lives in Missoula, Montana, where he edits the Missoula Independent.

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