One of art’s most powerful assets is that it can speak on behalf of the silenced; it can express what other media might not be allowed to state publicly; and above all, it can resonate beyond borders or limits.
In September 2014, the entire world became witness to the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, a small Mexican town not far from the Pacific Ocean. It was an atrocious act that was linked to the local government and law enforcers. Despite the fact that this event took over global headlines and inspired thousands to march in protest all over the world, Mexico’s government has yet to come up with a reasonable explanation as to the whereabouts of these students. The event has sparked controversy throughout all socio-political sectors in Mexico’s ever-shifting society, leading many public figures to manifest their discontent with the government and offer support for families of the missing students, who are still fighting for an answer. Sadly, this tragedy is not the first of its nature to take place in Mexico: the government and military were also responsible for the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre that took the lives of an unverified number of students and civilians.
This act of retribution on behalf of the government has made it clear that impunity is still at large when it comes to facing the consequences of human rights violations in Mexico. One of Mexico’s most renowned artists and activists, Francisco Toledo, has been hard at work to raise awareness about this unresolved situation. To promote the perspective of other countries on this issue, Toledo launched the first International Biennial of Posters for Ayotzinapa (A nueve meses de Ayotzinapa), which received more than 700 submissions from across the globe.
To everyone’s surprise, Iran was the country with the most participants, followed by proposals from Italy, Spain, Costa Rica, Cuba, Portugal, and Japan, amongst others. The Biennial’s first public appearance took place at the beginning of 2015 in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in Mexico City where 23 selected posters where exhibited along with an installation of 43 kites made by Toledo to symbolize the students. The next showcase of the selected posters was in the Institute of Graphic Arts of Oaxaca, where they were exhibited until last week.
The plan is for this exhibition to tour the world, starting with locations across Europe, in order to continue raising awareness and promoting the cause of the missing students' relatives, who haven’t stopped marching to find an answer (they recently held a protest at the UN headquarters in New York). With a clear focus on alleviating the situation by whatever means necessary, the selected posters have been printed into open editions and all proceeds from their sales will go directly to the families of the 43 students.
The winner of the first International Biennial of Posters for Ayotzinapa is Irving Homero Carreño Garnica, a participant from Mexico, who portrayed his country’s shape with a bloody skeleton in his work México fracturado por Ayotzinapa (Mexico fractured by Ayotzinapa). This powerful juxtposition is not too far from the reality that Mexico is now living. With death tolls reaching unsurpassed numbers, there is widespread uncertainty with regards to the role of the government: whether they are the jury or the executioner seems to be the question on every Mexican's mind, and it still remains unanswered.
(All images: International Biennial of Posters for Ayotzinapa)