Missing Students in Mexico Have Inspired a Wave of Protest Art
In reaction to the disappearances of the 43 Ayotzinapa Normal School students, exciting new protest art has emerged, drawing attention the oppression of young and poor progressives in Mexico.
There's a rage blazing across Mexico. It's due to the disappearance, and most likely massacre, of 43 unarmed male students from Ayotzinapa Normal School, a teacher's college known for it's radical and leftist politics that is located in the southern state of Guerrero.
It all started on September 26 in the town of Iguala, when police opened fire on three buses full of students, who were en route to protest education reforms and to demand more resources for their college. In that altercation, six people were killed and 43 students were arrested. The cops then handed the students, who were mostly from indigenous and rural campesino towns, over to cartel hitmen from the drug gang Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors). They haven't been seen since.
Days after the brutal scene in Iguala, mass graves were found in the nearby jungles. However, the corpses have not yet been identified as those of the Ayotzinapa 43. The bodies could be victims of some other violence perpetrated by the drug war and the accompanying political and police corruption prevalent in Mexico. Police and criminals are often synonymous and carry out crimes, murders, and kidnappings with impunity.
Early Tuesday, mayor of Iguala and fugitive Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda, who stand accused of ordering the assault on the students, were caught and arrested in Mexico City. Guerrero governor Ángel Aguirre has also stepped down after evidence arose that he ignored the corruption in Iguala.
In reaction to the disappearances, protests have resounded across Mexico demanding the Ayotzinapa students be returned alive. Along with the outrage has come an outpouring of art—protesters carry large-scale printed portraits of each student as they march in the streets demanding their return.
Yescka is a Oaxacan street artist and founder of the political art collective ASARO (Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca). He created wheatpaste posters of five young men in postures of surrender as red spray paint drips off their backs. Three figures with their pants at their ankles wear soccer jerseys that read "Justice," "Ayotzinapa," and "October 2"—the day of the Tlaltelolco Massacre. Yescka says the piece functions as a memory connecting the Ayotzinapa student disappearances with the assassinations of an uncertain number of students by military police in the Tlaltelolco neighborhood of Mexico City in 1968. Both events were horrific and have the ring of state-sponsored corruption, though they happened 46 years apart.
Gran Om, a visual artist who comes from Mexico City, illustrated a more mournful piece (above) inspired by the missing young people . The graphic says. "Friends, students of Ayotzinapa, your town awaits you. They took them alive and that's the way we want them. Alive!" This demand has been the protesters' chant since communities from Mexico to Barcelona organized in gatherings of solidarity.
Online, graphic artists from all over have added their own portraits of the missing students to a Tumblr called Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa or " Ilustrators with Ayotzinapa." Each illustration is a detailed portrait of the missing student: a face in a dreamy watercolor of rainbows; another face, crying and rising from Mexico choked by cactus; a third face gagged with the Mexican flag.
"I am Alejandra, and I want to know where Antonio Santana Maestro is," one portrait declares. Each day the number of illustrations grows while the likeliness the students are alive diminishes.
This past weekend, as communities celebrated Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a Mexican tradition where families honor loved ones who have passed on, many people included portrait images of the Ayotzinapa 43 in their altars. Others left them off their altars because they maintain hope that the students are alive. Either way, the hashtag #Ayotzinapa and the art associated with it has become a vehicle for drawing attention to the national problem of injustice toward the young, poor, and progressive.
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