drawings from 2005 at PhilosophyBox gallery

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–More than 400 women have been murdered in the Mexican border city of Juarez in the past 15 years. While authorities have done little to identify these women or their killers, Andrea Arroyo, a Manhattan-based artist, is determined to not let the dead women be forgotten.

Arroyo is currently working on a commemoration of the victims of the Juarez violence. So far she has completed about 200 drawings.

“Although I’m not an expert on the subject, as an artist I needed to create a tribute to these women and to celebrate their lives,” Arroyo told Women’s eNews during a recent interview in her New York apartment.

Her project, “Flor de Tierra,” focuses on the large scale of the murders, with each piece serving as an abstract tribute to one of the victims, many of whom remain unidentified.

The drawings–white lines on black paper–are inspired by police chalk outlines, Arroyo said. They often focus on one body element: a hand, a braid, a woman’s midsection.

In many cases these women were dismembered, said Arroyo, and only pieces of their bodies have been recovered.

Victims’ Undiscovered Potential

“As I thought about the theme, I was increasingly intrigued by the idea that these women died before their full potential was realized, and that each victim may have become a modern day Joan of Arc, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks or Frida Kahlo,” said Arroyo.

A hand in the stop gesture, across the border.

The project includes representations of the artist Frida Kahlo and various goddesses of mythology, a return to Arroyo’s longstanding interests. The work also includes depictions of laborers, a woman bent over in the fields, a flamenco dancer and figures holding up their hands in a “stop” gesture.

A principal concept of the project is to create a parallel between the lives of extraordinary women and these more anonymous victims, said Arroyo.

“I’m passionate about this project because it’s so close to home,” she said. “I grew up middle class in Mexico City and I know how things work there–the police, the government. I know about these women’s struggles; I’ve seen them.”

Arroyo, 46, studied contemporary dance in high school and moved from Mexico City to Manhattan in 1983 so she could dance with the city’s troupes. Once in New York, her interest shifted to visual arts, sculpture and drawings in particular.

In 1988 Arroyo had her first exhibit at the On the Wall Gallery in Manhattan. It featured sculptures of people drawn from street scenes in New York.

Works Focus on Women

Arroyo then moved on to what has become her signature works–colorful acrylics full flowing shapes. These pieces conjure up women from around the world and goddesses drawn from a range of sources: Greek myths, the Bible, legends from Bali, Thailand and the pre-Columbian Aztec and Mayan cultures.

She’s also drawn to the theme of immigrant women struggling to assimilate into U.S. life. “I’m inspired by anyone who has done something special, which is most women, from my sisters to Frida Kahlo,” said Arroyo.

So far Arroyo has only displayed portions of the new project. She is looking for a venue for the project, when it is completed, and is applying for grants to support her full-time work as an artist.

She would like to see the project displayed in its entirety, with each tribute unframed.

“To me that emphasizes the fragility of these women. The papers can flow in the wind and become alive, they can easily be ripped and damaged,” said Arroyo.

She would also like to hang ribbons with the victims’ names–many of which may have to be left blank–from the ceiling and around the room of the exhibit. Arroyo would also include white ribbons for all visitors to take as a daily reminder of the violence that continues in Mexico.

Kayla Hutzler, a journalism major at Manhattan College, is a former editorial intern with Women’s eNews.

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For more information:

Amnesty International USA, Background on Women of Juarez

Andrea Arroyo

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