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An Everyday Reality

A new look at Mexico's drug war: Violence and art collide in a haunting Fotofest show

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Slideshow
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Marcela Rico_13
Marcela Rico, Untitled from the series Landscapes from Sinaloa, 2011 Photo courtesy of the artist
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Miguel Aragon_Espectadores
Miguel Aragón, Espectadores, 2011 Photo courtesy of the artist
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Fernando Brito_52
Fernando Brito, Untitled from Tus Pasos se Perdieron con el Paisaje, 2010-2012 Photo courtesy of the artist
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Pedro Reyes_91
Pedro Reyes, Palas por Pistolas (Shovels for Guns), 2007-present Photo courtesy of the artist
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Jorge Barraza_9
Jorge Arreola Barraza, Daño colateral-Espacio vacío 9, 2011 Photo courtesy of the artist
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Ivete Lucas_3
Ivete Lucas, ¡Felicidades Mexico!, video still, 2010 Photo courtesy of the artist
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Edgardo Aragon, ladrillos
Edgardo Aragón, Efectos de Familia, video still, 2007-2009 Photo courtesy of Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Marcela Rico_13
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Miguel Aragon_Espectadores
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Fernando Brito_52
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Pedro Reyes_91
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Jorge Barraza_9
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Ivete Lucas_3
FotoFest Chronicas show, January 2013, Edgardo Aragon, ladrillos

As the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston prepares to wind down its War/Photography show, Fotofest International continues to explore that tricky intersection of art and violence with Crónicas — a look at how contemporary Mexican artists are responding to their nation's ongoing drug war.

CultureMap stopped by Fotofest headquarters for a preview tour with curator Jennifer Ward, who assembled the pieces by seven photo artists working in cartel strongholds like Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey and Oaxaca.

"As it's spread across the co untry in the last decade, the drug war has become a part of daily life for many parts of Mexico."

"As it's spread across the country in the last decade, the drug war has become a part of daily life for many parts of Mexico," Ward explains.

"The artists included in the show are creating portraits of the drug war as it happens around them . . . not so much in a documentary way, but in an emotional way."

As opposed to the heroics, history and theatrics of the MFAH show, Crónicas portrays war from the perspective of those forced to cope with its effects firsthand.

The curator points to several untitled photographs by Marcela Rico from a series unearthing the manner in which cartel activity has shaped the landscape and psychology of Sinaloa, an isolated agricultural region along the Pacific coast that has become synonymous with drug trafficking.

"The artists included in the show are creating portraits of the drug war as it happens around them." 

"Marcela grew up in Sinaloa when the cartel violence was still mostly between rival groups," Ward says. "But once the drug war took hold in the 2000s, the violence began affecting more bystanders."

Using a lush farm fields as stand-in for everyday life in the region, Rico photographs controlled situations she creates to disrupt the tidy green rows of crops. In one, a mysterious object covered by a black tarp sits in the middle of a field. In another, a portion of crops burn in contained fire.

Other artists like Miguel Aragón and Fernando Brito address the violence directly, reworking gruesome images meant for mass media consumption into hauntingly intimate works.

Crónicas opens Friday at FotoFest (1113 Vine) with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Special support for the event comes from the Tequila Interchange Project, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving traditional and sustainable tequila-making practices.

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