International Art Posters Remember Mexico’s Missing Students

The global art community responds to Mexico’s need for social change in 'Ayotzinapa: A Roar of Silence.'

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Feb 17 2016, 3:00pm

September 26, 2014 by Sahar Jalayer. Digital Print 2015. Designed in Iran. Printed in Mexico. Photo courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

In September 2014, 43 students went missing in the southwestern town of Iguala, echoing state corruption, tottering civil liberties and the similar tragic incidents that plague Mexico’s past and present. As for the country’s future, its people and diverse communities abroad are wanting change, and are demanding so through politically driven posters.

Starting February 18, over 43 prints from both Mexican and international artists will be on display in Ayotzinapa: A Roar of Silence, an exhibit calling global attention to the disappeared students and Mexico’s culpable government. Led by renowned artist activist Francisco Toledo, posters and an installation of 43 kites—each with a student’s face—are being shown at three Los Angeles art organisations, beginning with the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC).

Ayotzinapa by Carlos Carmona Medina. Digital Print 2015. Mexico. Photo courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

“Francisco Toledo is a traditional artist but he’s also Mexico’s moral fighting activist,” says Marietta Bernstorff, SPARC’s show curator and an Oaxaca native. “He united the energy of the country and eight weeks after the incident made a call to everyone saying that we need to make images to keep them alive and in the memory of everyone so that we keep asking questions.”

You Cannot Bury The Truth by K. S. Helińska. Digital Print 2015. Designed in Poland. Printed in Mexico. Photo courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

700 entries from around the world answered Toledo’s call, including Turkey, Spain, China and Iran, the biggest submitter. After selecting those for viewing, the posters first toured throughout Mexico, now reaching non-profit institutions in L.A.

“It’s extremely moving to have seen so many people from around the world participate,” says Bernstorff. “It means that it’s a struggle that everybody can understand and that the need to speak out and stand up is universal.”

Ayotzinapa 43 September 26, 2014 by Sevgi Ari. Digital Print 2015. Designed in Turkey. Printed in Mexico. Photo courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.  

Recently, forensic specialists rejected the Mexican government’s claim that the missing students had been burned at a dump approximately 10 miles away from where they were last seen. Bernstorff goes on to explain that the event resonates with happenings such as the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre, where peaceful protests in Mexico City led to violent government action and a death toll, which to this day, remains undetermined.

Mexico, ranked 148 out of 180 in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, has a tradition of artists fighting for social issues and injustices, producing leaders like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, David Alfonso Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco.

“Historically, Mexicans are known to fight with the arts because it’s the only voice they have,” Bernstorff tells The Creators Project. “There’s no money and you’re not allowed to have guns so you can’t pick up arms after revolution. People are only left with one thing and that is to use a medium like the arts to voice their concerns on issues.”

54321 Tiempo De Recrear by Flor Aguilar. Digital Print 2015. Mexico. Photo courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

Between sound bites of Donald Trump’s call for a border wall, and the Mexican government’s failure to produce a coherent investigation into the missing students, the L.A. shows of Ayotzinapa: A Roar of Silence was set up quickly, without much funding, so that awareness continues to be spread.

“For the parents that have lost a child, this is an issue that will never stop for them,” says Bernstorff. “It’s an open wound in Mexico and it's getting stronger. So artists all over Mexico, contemporary or not, are using their art to demonstrate the injustices that are occurring. This reactivates our understanding of what the arts are and why we need to support it.”

Ayotzinapa: A Roar of Silence was acquired by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG). After SPARC (February 18-March 27), the exhibit will be on display at Art Division (April 2-29) and Self-Help Graphics & Art (May 1-June 10), all organisations that believe in using art for social change.

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