March 13 - April 25, 2020
Art League Houston (ALH) is proud to present The Writing on the Wall, an installation of work by Artist Alice Leora Briggs (based in Tucson, Arizona) and text written by Julián Cardona and Briggs (Cardona is based in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico). Selected by ALH’s Artist Advisory Board during the Open Call process, The Writing on the Wall exhibits recent bodies of work addressing immigration and border politics in the city of Juárez, and features visual artwork created by Briggs in conjunction with her projects with Juárez reporter and photojournalist Julián Cardona. In the preface to their upcoming book, Briggs states, “The people of Ciudad Juárez, who tell their stories in these pages, are neither composite nor fictional characters. A few gave permission to publish their first and last names. Others are identified by nicknames known only among their friends and families. A small number did not want not to be named at all. They share memories of their experiences between 2006 through 2012, years when the streets of their city exploded with violence, years when President Felipe Calderón sent ten thousand federal forces into Ciudad Juárez. A new lexicon that rose out of Ciudad Juárez during this six-year period is the core of our project, an investigation of the language and framework of a main growth industry in this border city: crime. These pages reveal that much of this crime is sponsored by the Mexican State. When not committed by the State, the government’s policy of near impunity condones these crimes.
As with any attempt to capture slang, our efforts have become history before these pages could be bound. Some years after the drug trade’s parallel economy rode into town, it was followed by thousands of soldiers and Federal Police. President Felipe Calderón implied that the resulting deaths of Juárez citizens were equivalent to an extermination of cockroaches. If ever there was an occasion for speechlessness, this was it. But in this city where Spanish and English collide, the streets exploded with words invented and adjusted to describe a world Juarenses had never seen.” Narratives based on Julián Cardona’s interviews introduce us to individuals who speak this new dialect and provide firsthand accounts of the staggering collateral damage of ‘business as usual’ in Juárez. Briggs’ drawings reveal this environment as unique, but parallel to the many instances of greed, torture, murder and other abuses that decorate the dark corners of human history.
Between 2008-2010, Briggs created her first renderings of ABCedario de Juárez, a mutable theatre of tortures and executions, a pictorial Spanish alphabet in 32 panels. This homage to both Juárez and Hans Holbein’s Alphabet of Death sharpened her interest in the new vocabulary rising out of Juárez. She started to gather and study narcotraficante, gang and street slang, as well as to create a visual record of the city. Her work is grounded in time spent in Juárez beginning in 2008.
Julián Cardona, a resident of Ciudad Juárez since early childhood, conducted his initial interview in 2008 with crime victim, Pastor Socorro Garcia. She was present when masked gunmen entered a drug treatment clinic, opened fire on a religious service, and killed eight men. Cardona continued to conduct interviews that present the experiences of victims and perpetrators of Juárez crime. Cardona has collected slang terms from the citizens of Juárez, including drug dealers and traffickers, professional killers, kidnappers, crime victims, government officials, reporters, human rights workers and ex-police agents. Examples include: an elementary school boy from a poor barrio who understands the liabilities and assets of his dream career as a professional killer; a pre-teen who divides and packages drugs for retail sales; a woman who wakes to the news of the day: her sons’ childhood friend dinner guest from the night before is a decapitated corpse displayed on an overpass in the center of Juárez.
Briggs and Cardona worked independently of each other, but in late 2012, writer Charles Bowden pointed out that they had been conducting research on different facets of the same project. An unusually open collaboration grew out of a Las Cruces meeting with Bowden. Cardona shared a number of photographs that Briggs used as reference material for drawings. Briggs and Cardona wrote and rewrote Cardona’s interview based narratives over a period of ten years, and the body of work on view is a result of their collaborations.
Lecture: April 14, 2020 | 10:30–11 am
BLUE TAPE Art Talks
1953 Montrose Boulevard
Houston, 77006 TX
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