MEXICO CITY – Melchor Flores Landa is looking for the body of his son, street performer Melchor Flores Hernández, so he can receive proper burial.
Flores Hernández, 29, was abducted outside his house on Feb. 25, 2009.
Nobody has seen him since.
His disappearance prompted Flores Landa to start a nationwide walk in which he seeks help to find his son. He’s traveled more than 11,000 kilometers (6,835 miles) throughout Mexico and won’t stop until he recovers his son’s body.
In May 2010, 12 former police officers were detained, accused of kidnapping Flores Hernández. Two of them confessed to the charges, claiming the abduction was ordered by an unknown organized crime group.
Flores Hernández was killed and his body dumped in an unknown location, the suspects said.
The Flores family story is part of “In the shoes of the other,” a campaign organized by art collective “El grito más fuerte” (The loudest scream) and NGO Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity to raise awareness of the victims of Mexico’s crime wave, which took the lives of more than 12,000 during the first nine months of 2011.
In the campaign, Mexican artists and media personalities such as actor Diego Luna, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Bruno Bichir and Blanca Guerra read the testimonies of the kidnapped and missing to audiences throughout the country.
The initiative is part of a wave of campaigns across Mexico aimed at using art to offer solace to the battered nation, to reverse the culture of violence in favor of one of peace and respect for human rights.
Throughout 2012, several organizations have planned cultural activities to denounce violence.
Some of them have already started, such as the visual art and photography exhibit entitled “A Farewell to Arms. Smuggling on the Borders,” organized by civic association Alianza Cívica (Civic Alliance) and journalist Sergio Aguayo, which will be on display until April 2012 at Mexico City’s Museo de la Memoria y la Tolerancia (Museum of Remembrance and Tolerance), located across from the city’s Alameda Central park.
Thirty photographs from Mexican photojournalists David Jaramillo, Octavio Hoyos, Oswaldo Ramírez, Francisco Mata, Gustavo Durán, Guillermo Arias, Octavio Nava, Nicolás Tavira and Mónica González, sculptures from the Philippine artist Eduardo Olbés and submissions from journalists Denise Dresser and Magda Coss also are displayed at the exhibit, which seeks to reflect on the trafficking of “the 15 million to 20 million illegal weapons in Mexico,” according to the museum’s promotional materials.
Unregistered weapons in Mexico have become a symbol of the culture of violence being spread by organized crime, said Jacobo Dayán, the museum’s director of content.
“This exhibit does not intend to show the audience the totality of the phenomenon of violence we’re experiencing in Mexico, because the trafficking of arms is just one of the thousands of elements that play a role,” Dayán said. “We usually go to museums to see what happened to people in another time and place. Now, we can go to the museum and see what’s happening to us here and now.”
Monument in the park
The Movimiento por la Paz con Justicia y Dignidad (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity), which is led by poet Javier Sicilia, has planned the construction of a monument this year in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park, with the names of all of the people who have died because of organized crime.
The idea is to hold an architectural design contest to create a monument that will be “the symbol of our pain,” said María Elena Morera, the project’s spokeswoman.
Sicilia, known for his poetry, fiction and journalism, founded the NGO following the murder of his son, Juan Francisco Sicilia, and four other men by organized crime members on March 28, 2011.
Sicilia has traveled more than 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) across Mexico in an effort to raise the public’s awareness of the country’s escalating violent crime rate.
A helping hand
In 2011, the Nuestra Aparente Rendición (Our Apparent Surrender, or NAR in Spanish) art collective launched the Peace Fellowship project, which provides economic support to minors whose parents have been killed by narco-traffickers or members of organized crime.
There are about 15,000 so-called orphans of organized crime, according to the estimates of some civil organizations, said Alejandro Vélez, NAR’s editor.
NAR is “a hybrid platform with an Internet portal and published books aimed at intervening in Mexican society through literature,” Vélez added.
The collective published a homonymous book in 2011 with entries from writers such as Jorge Volpi, Heriberto Yépez, Alma Guillermo Prieto and José Eugenio Sánchez, among others, denouncing violence in Mexico.
The royalties from Nuestra Aparente Rendición went to a project for orphans of the violence run by NGO Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Our daughters back home) in Ciudad Juárez, Vélez said.
“This way, we can make a positive impact on the children’s lives and break up the nodes of violence with education and culture,” he added.
During the first half of 2012, NAR is expected to publish another book with 31 submissions by Mexican writers focusing on the price of violence. Royalties will continue to provide support to orphans.
Art as therapy
The phenomenon of answering violence with art is not new to Mexican culture, said Dr. Carlos Aguirre Rojas, a member of the Social Research Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
As recently as the 1950s, painters, photographers and writers have played an active role in society, using social causes as inspiration for their work, Aguirre said.
“It has been proven that artistic expression helps people overcome the fear caused by the deaths around them,” he added. “They regain their public spaces, the streets, they make themselves heard and they reassume ownership of their cities.”
José Revueltas, Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes and more recently Paco Ignacio Taibó II, José Agustín, Yuria Herrera and Elmer Mendoza, among many others, used their crafts to present a critical take on certain historical moments, Aguirre said.
A peaceful thread
“Embroidery for Peace” is an initiative of the Fuentes Rojas artist collective. The project focuses on embroidering handkerchiefs with the names or descriptions of each of the 50,000 people killed in the struggle against narco-trafficking. The pieces are displayed in public squares nationwide.
“Embroidery for Peace aims to create a collective memory of the current situation in our country,” said Ana Gabriela Aguilar Rosas, a member of the Fuentes Rojas collective. “The goal is to suggest a symbolic approach to each of the individual tragedies of men, women and children who have died in the fight against narco-trafficking.”
The project will take place throughout the year at numerous public spaces in Mexico City, she added.
“With the simple act of embroidering the name of a friend of relative who died from the violence, people have been able to channel their anger and grief,” Aguilar said. “History has shown us that in complex moments such as these, Mexican society has sought out effective ways to have collective unity and togetherness. We’re people fighting for a country of peace, justice and dignity for all.”
- Catalina Llorens Francia contributed to this piece from Mexico City.