Natalia Stengel Peña is a Mexican sociologist with an MA in Modern and Contemporary Art. After researching topics such as human trafficking and feminicides, she is trying to fight against gender violence from a perspective that merges art and activism. Stengel is a PhD researcher in Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at King’s College London. Her research project explores the rhizomatic effect of Mexican feminist artivism and how it may help to stop gender violence in Mexico. For her research, she is analysing artwork by Lorena Wolffer, Cerrucha, Teresa Margolles, Adriana Calatayud, Juana López and Elina Chauvet.
In Mexico, 66.1% of women have suffered some form of violence (INEGI, 2016). The high percentages of violence against women cannot be attributed to a lack of legal framework or proper mechanisms. As of 2007, Mexico has one of the best laws in the world to protect women: the Ley General de Acceso de las Mujeres a una Vida Libre de Violencia [General Law for Women to Access a Life Free of Violence]. It was a substantial feminist triumph as many of the feminists were involved in the project). It defines violence taking into account international treaties such as CEDAW, and it also settles the mechanisms to guarantee safety for women. Therefore, it could be argued that the problem resides in weak enforcement of the law and a lack of access to justice for victims. With this in mind, the Mexican artivist Lorena Wolffer (Mexico City, 1971) proposed a platform to deal with violence in an alternative way.
Evidencias [Evidences] (2010-2016) was an installation exhibited in different cities of Mexico that offered a new format to denounce and speak about violence. Lorena Wolffer coordinated the artistic installation, but she was not really in charge. She called for women to donate the objects used to harm them accompanied by a testimony; women arrived at the museum and placed the object how and where they liked. By the time of her last exhibition, Wolffer had 237 objects each one of them revealing a problem that may clarify why violence against women in Mexico persists.
Wolffer exhibited the installation in several Mexican States: Mexico City, Querétaro, Baja California and Jalisco; that way, she was able to reach a bigger audience. However, Wolffer’s objective public was not the spectators but the women donating the pieces of evidence of violence. Though Wolffer has expressed her refusal of being categorised as an artivist since she wants to modify the culture outside the artistic institutions; her cultural intervention projects have some similarities with what artivism looks for: creating a platform for those living in liminality (the margins of the system). Consequently, Evidencias was created for women denouncing, and it is their reaction during the donation what concerned Wolffer. She observed how, by sharing their testimonies and meeting other women who suffered from similar crimes, it was cathartic and promoted a form of sisterhood as a pact among equal women.
In conclusion, Evidencias provides some answers to why the mechanisms available to stop gender violence in Mexico have not been efficient. The exhibition questioned the idea of the family as a strong institution that protects women as most of the testimonies accused the partners or parents as the main perpetrators. Those who did denounce the crimes to the police also testified that it was inefficient and never led them to justice. Though Evidencias did not lead the victims to access justice, it gave them agency when promoting for the victims to take control of what happened to them.
Natalia Stengel Peña, PhD student, Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at King’s College London
INEGI, ENDIREH (Mexico City: INEGI, 2016).
México, Ley General de Acceso de las Mujeres a una Vida Libre de Violencia 2007, <http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/LGAMVLV_130418.pdf>
Museo Malba, Lorena Wolffer — Entrevista con María Laura Rosa, online video recording, YouTube, 2 August 2018 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXpFZs2qMgM> [accessed 28 May 2019]
Just to clear ot out, Wolffer says she will always be linked to art but does not agree with being labelled as an activist. She would rather consider her project as cultural interventions.