Evidence: Artistic Responses to the Drug Cartel Wars

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detail of Encontraron a tres, 2013 Burnt Residue Embossing 24″ X 32″ © Courtesy of the Artist and Intersection for the Arts/ Intersection 5M
Evidence: Artistic Responses to the Drug Cartel Wars

901 Mission Street
Suite 306
San Francisco, CA 94109
June 21st, 2013 - August 31st, 2013
Opening: June 21st, 2013 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Fri-Sat 12-4
photography, video-art


A group exhibition featuring work by Miguel A. Aragón, Roberto Gomez Hernandez, Fiamma Montezemolo, Ernesto Ortiz, and Gianfranco Rosi & Charles Bowden.

Thousands of people have been murdered in the past decade through the ongoing armed conflict between rival drug cartels fighting for regional control of trafficking routes into the U.S. as well as through confrontations with Mexican government forces. Journalistic coverage of the drug violence has declined over the years, as several dozen journalists have been murdered for covering narco-related news. Some media networks simply ceased reporting on the drug war, while others have been directly infiltrated and corrupted by drug cartels. Although harassment effectively neutralized many of the traditional media outlets in both the U.S. and Mexico, the drug cartels have also kept pace with non-traditional journalistic outlets, torturing and murdering bloggers and social media users. The U.S. Justice Department considers the drug cartels the greatest organized crime threat to the U.S. Although one may think this violence happens elsewhere, drug cartels have infiltrated nearly 200 cities across the U.S., including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Over 100 killings, and dozens more kidnappings and home invasions connected to the drug cartels, have occurred in the U.S. between 2008-10. The proximity of this violence becomes even more evident considering that a substantial amount of financing for the drug cartels comes from American drug consumers.

The work in this exhibition features artistic responses to the drug cartel wars through painting, video, photography, printmaking, and installation, responses that do not explicitly depict the graphic brutality of these incomprehensible acts of violence, but rather position images that can mitigate and counteract societal tendencies for compassion fatigue around this issue. With public consciousness about the drug cartel wars diminishing from lack of reportage and news coverage, these artists continue to put forth a platform for discussion about one of the most pressing issues or our time.



Miguel A. Aragón presents a series of burnt residue embossed prints on paper based on newspaper photographs of murders occurring in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, a primary battleground in the violent war between rival cartels for control of the drug trade into the U.S.  Aragón’s works are created by printing laser-cut cardboard matrixes with which he then transfers the image through embossing paper onto this surface, drawing a literal connection between the medium’s lack of ink or color to the absence of life, and how these acts burn into the consciousness of an entire city.

Aragón was born and raised in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. He received a dual BFA in Printmaking and Graphic Design from the University of Texas at El Paso and his MFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2010 he completed a summer long internship at Pace Editions working closely with master printer Bill Hall. His work is included in the book A Survey of Contemporary Printmaking and in 2012 he received the Artist of the Year in Printmaking Award by the Austin Visual Arts Association and the Austin Critics Table Award for Artist of the Year. Along with other numerous awards, his work has been exhibited and reviewed nationally and internationally in venues such as the International Print Center New York, OSDE Espacio de Arte in Argentina, Austin Museum of Art, Mexic-Arte Museum, and in countries such as Canada, Japan, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom.

Roberto Gomez Hernandez presents a series entitled Mis Cielos: One Week in the Border Region of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, a set of photographs of the sky taken over seven days in the both the most violent city in the world and the safest large city in the U.S.  He also presents an installation that looks at how drug cartels have appropriated social media for intimidation and warfare through the creation and dissemination of execution and torture videos.

Gomez Hernandez, a dual Mexican American citizen, is a filmmaker, photographer, writer, and teacher.  He has worked professionally in the U.S., Brazil, Cuba, France, Haiti, Mexico, Italy, Morocco, Spain, and the United Kingdom.  He recently received his MFA in Media Arts and MA in Visual Critical Studies from the California College of the Arts and received his BA in Latin Languages and BFA in painting from the University of New Mexico in 2009.  He has exhibited his work locally at Root Division, Angel Island Immigration Station, Galeria de la Raza, Wattis Art Institute, Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, SOMArts Cultural Center, and internationally in Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, and France.

Fiamma Montezemolo presents a video-essay entitled Traces/Rastros, which merges contemplative images, confessions, and theoretical reflections to form a meditation on border life between the U.S. and Mexico. Based on both years of ethnographic work in Tijuana, Mexico and an ascetic shooting schedule of 24 hours, Montezemolo refracts her own experience in the region by attempting to sculpt a textured living portrait of the wall that separates Tijuana and San Diego.  Although not specifically commenting on the drug cartel wars, Montezemolo’s video serves to pluralize the violence between the U.S. and Mexico, speaking to how the border itself contributes to two major spheres of violence: drug trafficking and border crossings.

Montezemolo was born in Rome and is both a Cultural Anthropologist (PhD, University Orientale of Naples) and an artist (MFA, San Francisco Art Institute). She is currently teaching at UC Berkeley in the Department of Art Practice and at California College of the Arts. As an established scholar in border and urban studies, she has patiently designed rigorous and long-term ethnographic-artistic interventions at the Tijuana-San Diego border where she has also resided and taught for many years. In addition to ethnography, a research method she also considers an emerging medium for art practices, she works with various media, including installation, cartography, video, digital photography, industrial materials, performance, and archival documents. She co-authored the internationally acclaimed book Here is Tijuana (Black Dog Publishing, London, 2006), and her co-edited book with Josh Kun, Tijuana Dreaming: Life and Art at the Global Border, was recently published by Duke Press University (2012).

Ernesto Ortiz presents a series of paintings on Mexican manta, a type of common cloth used by some to make clothes and also by the drug cartels to leave threatening messages atop corpses. Exploring the emotional impact of cultural obliteration and the loss of corporal dignity, portions of Ortiz’s paintings are left exposed and blank, creating an existential chalk outline of those who have been murdered.  

Ortiz was born in El Paso, Texas to parents from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  He is currently enrolled in the MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  He received his BFA from the California College of the Arts in 2005 and also studied at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Marseille, France and at the Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy.  He has exhibited his work locally at Lobot Gallery, Varnish Fine Art, Mission Cultural Center, 111 Minna Gallery, and in Zürich, Switzerland and Berlin, Germany.

Gianfranco Rosi & Charles Bowden, with distribution through Icarus Films, are the collaborative team behind the 2011 film El Sicario, Room 164, a minimalist study about maximum violence that offers viewers the rare opportunity to meet a narco hitman and live to tell his story. In an anonymous motel room on the U.S./Mexico border, a Ciudad Juárez hitman speaks about his experience killing hundreds of people, his expertise in torture and kidnapping, and his double life simultaneously being on the payroll of Mexican drug cartels and a commander of the Chihuahua State Police. There is currently a $250,000 contract on his life and he lives as a fugitive, though he has never been charged with a crime in any country. With his face obscured by a black mesh hood, he tells his story to the camera inside the very motel room he once used to hold and torture kidnapped victims. Aided only by a magic marker and notepad, which he uses to illustrate and diagram his words, he describes, in astounding detail, his life of crime, murder, abduction, and torture.

Gianfranco Rosi produced, directed, and photographed Boatman (1993) and Afterwards (2000), which premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The film Below Sea Level (2008), which he directed, photographed and produced, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008 and won numerous awards including the Orizzonti Documentary Award, the Grand Prix and Prix des Jeunes at Cinema Du Reel in Paris, and Best Italian Documentary at the Bellaria Film Festival.  Rosi is a guest lecturer at New York University Film School and the CCC in Mexico City, and teaches documentary at SUPSI in Switzerland and at the Accademia del I’immagine in L’Aquila.  He currently lives in Rome, Italy. Charles Bowden is one of the premiere writers on the American environment and social issues along the U.S./Mexico border. His numerous books include Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez (2010), Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields (2010), Some of the Dead are Still Breathing: Living in the Future (2009), A Shadow in the City: Confessions of an Undercover Drug Warrior (2005), Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family (2002), Juárez: The Laboratory of our Future (1998), Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America (1995), Blue Desert (1986), and Killing the Hidden Waters (1977). He is a contributing editor of GQ and Mother Jones Magazine and writes for other periodicals including Harper’s Magazine, New York Times Book Review, Esquire, and Aperture. He currently lives in Las Cruces, NM.