Light and Solidarity

Erin Mosely

Susan Plum

Susan Plum is chal­leng­ing the Mex­i­can government’s mas­sive fail­ure to effec­tive­ly inves­ti­gate and halt the killing spree in Ciu­dad Juárez, Mex­i­co, which has tak­en the lives of more than 370 women in the past 12 years. Plum, an artist who lives and works in San Miguel de Allende, Mex­i­co, has decid­ed to shed light on the mys­te­ri­ous string of female abduc­tions and mur­ders — one can­dle at a time.

Last sum­mer she began cir­cu­lat­ing via e‑mail the idea for Luz y Sol­i­dari­dad” (“Light and Sol­i­dar­i­ty”), an art project that calls for peo­ple every­where to help her bring light to Juárez, espe­cial­ly to the moth­ers and the fam­i­lies of the young women and girls who have been mur­dered.” The instal­la­tion exhib­it and per­for­mance, set to open Feb­ru­ary 4, 2006, at the Museo de la Ciu­dad in Queré­taro, Mex­i­co, will incor­po­rate pho­tographs of votives that have been lit all over the world for the women of the Mex­i­can bor­der town.

Accord­ing to Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al, 137 of the 370 mur­ders in Juárez and the sur­round­ing area of Chi­huahua, have involved sex­u­al assault. Addi­tion­al­ly, some­where between 70 and 400 women and girls remain missing.

Many of the women killed have been abduct­ed near their work­places — the maquilas (fac­to­ries) locat­ed on the out­skirts of Juárez. Kari Lyder­sen writes in her new book, Out of the Sea and into the Fire, They dis­ap­pear while wait­ing for or leav­ing the bus­es that take them to and from work, or after vis­it­ing the bars that are pop­u­lar with maquila work­ers on Fri­day nights.” Per­va­sive machis­mo and a cul­ture that demeans women are also to blame for the pat­tern of vio­lence. As Nation­al Pub­lic Radio’s John Bur­nett report­ed, It’s a com­mon joke [in Juárez] when two men see a provoca­tive­ly dressed woman, for one to elbow the oth­er and say, She bet­ter watch out or she’ll end up in the desert.’”

Pres­i­dent Vicente Fox claims that the unsolved mur­ders in Juárez are among his administration’s top pri­or­i­ties. His spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor, Maria Lopez Urbina, has reviewed the state’s pros­e­cu­tion process and found prob­a­ble cause for crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tions into more than 100 Chi­huahua state pub­lic offi­cials for neg­li­gence, omis­sion and relat­ed offens­es. Despite these find­ings, the Fox admin­is­tra­tion main­tains that it does not have juris­dic­tion to pre­side over offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tions — the cas­es have been returned to the pros­e­cu­tors and courts that mis­han­dled them from the start.

To protest these gov­ern­men­tal fail­ures, Plum is ask­ing peo­ple to join her in a sim­ple ges­ture to show sup­port for the vic­tims. In light­ing a votive for one of these young women and girls who have been mur­dered, we will help illu­mi­nate a path so that their spir­it can move out of dark­ness into the light.”

Light­ing a votive also serves as a solace to the vic­tims’ moth­ers. These women stand alone, feel­ing invis­i­ble and aban­doned in their com­mu­ni­ty,” says Plum, who this past sum­mer met with three moth­ers through the Mujeres de Juárez orga­ni­za­tion. I feel and hope this act of kind­ness, com­pas­sion and depth will give them a sense of empowerment.”

Plum’s artis­tic and human­i­tar­i­an mis­sion is to col­lect print­ed and per­son­al­ly signed pho­tographs of everyone’s can­dles and assem­ble them into one instal­la­tion. She intends to show­case large hang­ing brooms in the space, along with oth­er objects that pos­sess sym­bol­ic sig­nif­i­cance. Mex­i­co has a long-stand­ing tra­di­tion of sweep­ing,” says Plum. Women, most­ly, sprin­kle water out­side their doors and sweep the front of their homes and street.” Plum hopes to build on this pow­er and ener­gy of the fem­i­nine, by hav­ing the moth­ers, who will be dis­persed among per­form­ing sweep­ers, play bull­roars— sacred pre-Columbian instruments.

There is no jus­tice for these women, and my inten­tion for Luz y Sol­i­dari­dad’ is not only as art-activism but as a mov­ing and shared expe­ri­ence for both the moth­ers and the audience.”

After ini­ti­at­ing the first e‑mail,” Plum says, I was get­ting about 30 e‑mails a day.” Because of this encour­ag­ing feed­back, she plans to link Luz” with a local polit­i­cal event focus­ing on the women of Juárez. When the show opens next Feb­ru­ary, she would like to orga­nize a con­fer­ence at Uni­ver­si­dad Autóno­ma de Querétaro.

Com­bin­ing the expe­ri­en­tial with the polit­i­cal-edu­ca­tion­al,” she says, is some­thing I want to strive for.” 

Per­haps the light ema­nat­ing from Queré­taro will help expose the injus­tice and spark a seri­ous investigation.

To par­tic­i­pate in Luz y Sol­i­dari­dad” and light your own votive, con­tact Susan Plum.

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