TAMSYN CHALLENGER: 400 WOMEN Curated by Gemma Rolls-Bentley
Canongate Venture, 5 New Street, Edinburgh, EH8 8BH
4th August - 4th September 2011
400 Women is a large-scale conceptual work by artist Tamsyn Challenger. The work responds to the brutal rape and murder of thousands of women in the Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez and, more generally, to gender violence across the globe. Challenger has brought together a critical mass of nearly 200 international artists including Paula Rego, Maggi Hambling, Swoon and Humphrey Ocean in a site-specific portrait installation. First exhibited to great acclaim in 2010 in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall, it is shown for the first time in Edinburgh in a dilapidated schoolhouse.
Curated by London-based curator, Gemma Rolls-Bentley, the exhibition will be installed in the Canongate Venture. This centrally located disused schoolhouse has been kindly provided by the City of Edinburgh Council. It offers a particularly resonant setting and brings to mind the computer school in downtown Juarez where several girls were harvested from, before being murdered.
The project began in 2006 when Tamsyn Challenger traveled to Mexico and met with some of the families of murdered and missing women, most of whom were extremely poor. Challenger was marked by meeting one particular woman, Consuelo Valenzuela, whose daughter Julieta went missing in 2001, when she was 17. Consuelo pressed postcards that had been generated as an aid to finding her daughter into the Challenger’s hands. She recalls, “Julieta’s face, looking up at me, was such a poverty of an image. It had been reproduced from a snapshot but the face was blurred and faded, she had no eyes really and a bleached out nose. I think I just wanted to bring her face back.” On the long flight home the artist formed the idea for what has become 400 Women. The concept relies heavily on a large-scale collaborative force with each artist representing one of the murdered women chosen for them, in some way invoking her, so that she can challenge humanity. Each image produced stands as a statement against gender violence.
Challenger has obtained over 100 images through Amnesty International's Mexican team, the group Nuestra Hijas de regreso a casa, and the Casa Amiga Rape Crisis Centre in Ciudad JuÀ¡rez. For some women no image is extant. For these cases Challenger has asked the artist involved to use the woman’s name as they wish within the piece. Each portrait is on a uniformly sized media of 14” by 10” echoing “retablo” (behind the altar), the iconic imagery of the Catholic Church that remains such a strong force and power in Mexico.
Explanations for the murders, which continue to this day, range from serial killers to organ fielding, the use of women as prizes for drug cartels and domestic violence. Most sinister of all is the possibility of so-called sexual violence tourism. The continued disappearance of women in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America demonstrates a culture’s disregard for the rights of women. Despite media coverage of the issue, the murder of 300 women in 2010 and the disappearance of many more attest to the fact that little is changing. The killers continue to enjoy impunity in the region, which has had a knock-on effect throughout the country. The Mexican authorities have seriously mishandled each investigation into these murders and in August 2006 the Mexican federal government dropped its investigations into the murders, concluding that no federal laws had been violated.
VISITOR INFORMATION Tamsyn Challenger’s 400 Women is installed at the Canongate Venture as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, 4th August – 4th September 2011 (private view 3rd August 2011). Canongate Venture, 5 New Street, Edinburgh, EH8 8BH. Edinburgh Festival Fringe Venue 167. Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday, 11am – 7pm. Enquiries: +44 (0) 7870 935442 Events: Tuesday 25th August, Edinburgh Art Festival Art Late – open gallery evening event.