An Everyday Reality
A new look at Mexico's drug war: Violence and art collide in a haunting Fotofest show
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 country 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.