Category: Prints - Posters

Andy Warhol is Still Dead

stupid_warhol

Tweet from Christie’s, May 9, 2022.

On May 9, 2022, Christie’s auction house in New York sold an Andy Warhol silkscreen print titled Shot Sage Blue Marilyn; it was the highest price ever paid for an American artwork at an auction.

Warhol’s 1964 reproduction of actress Marilyn Monroe has as its basis a publicity photo of Monroe from the 1954 film noir thriller, Niagara; that original still was shot by photographer Gene Korman. It’s funny how Mr. Korman is usually excluded from this history.

Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is part of a series of five Marilyn Monroe silkscreen prints published on canvas; all measuring 40 x 40 inches. Each of the five prints utilize Korman’s photo, and possess a different color scheme. There is a red, orange, turquoise, and light blue version, but the sage blue variant is the one currently getting all the attention because of its enormous price tag.

Alex Rotter, chairman of Christie’s 20th and 21st century art department, stated that Warhol’s Marilyn should be placed with Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as “categorically one of the greatest paintings of all time.” Aside from the fact that Shot Sage Blue Marilyn is not a painting but a silkscreen print, Warhol’s weak-minded pop bobbles don’t come close to the preeminence of Botticelli or Da Vinci. Even the worst Picasso surpasses the best Warhol. Rotter shouldn’t be a chairman for one of Christie’s departments, but a doorman for one of their auctions.

Gene Korman’s publicity still of Marilyn Monroe from the 1954 film noir thriller, “Niagara.”

Gene Korman’s publicity still of Marilyn Monroe from the 1954 film noir thriller, “Niagara.”

Don’t call me an out-of-touch reactionary for not worshiping Andy Warhol. For years a reproduction of his 1982 screenprint Dollar Sign has been hanging in my studio, and the morbid punk rock side of me is intrigued by his Car Crash silkscreen series. However, I was merely amused by these prints and never attributed weightiness, masterful skill, or staggering importance to them.

Like all of Warhol’s works they were throw away pop culture images.

The sale of Shot Sage Blue Marilyn marks the ongoing commodification of art at the hands of avaricious speculators and investors. The final price of the print was not $195 million but actually $195,040,000. To the average American eaten alive by record high inflation, rising gas prices, and food shortages (thanks Biden), that’s a lot of dough. US inflation hasn’t been this high since 1981, when Ronnie Reagan won the White House from Jimmy Carter.

The Washington Post—you know, where democracy dies in darkness, let the cat out of the bag with this remark: “The record sale was set as investors seek out safe-haven investments, such as art, amid uncertainty in global financial markets fueled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” Uh-huh, soldiers fall, stocks rise. In other words, for the oligarchs that have a death grip on the art world’s upper strata, the experience of art is no longer one of contemplation and the wonderment of beauty. No, it’s only a “safe-haven” for investments. Money laundering anyone?

Once upon a time in the early 1960’s a taxi cab company owner named Robert Scull thought himself a big wig in the art world. He bought art for peanuts from unknowns like Warhol, who at the time was a nobody with empty pockets. Scull purchased Warhol’s 200 One Dollar Bills print for around $2,500; it was Warhol’s first silkscreen print. In 1986 Scull’s estate sold it for $385,000. In 2009 Sotheby’s of New York held an auction where they sold it to a nameless plutocrat for $43.8 million.

"200 One Dollar Bills." Andy Warhol, 1962. Silkscreen, ink, pencil on canvas. Photo/Sotheby’s. "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it." From: Warhol in his own words – Untitled Statements ( 1963 – 1987).

"200 One Dollar Bills." Andy Warhol, 1962. Silkscreen, ink, pencil on canvas. Photo/Sotheby’s. "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There's nothing behind it." From: Warhol in his own words – Untitled Statements ( 1963 – 1987).

There’s not much else to say about Shot Sage Blue Marilyn. The print has no hidden message or particular meaning, it advocates, reveals, and supports nothing—like most of Warhol’s works it is just empty fluff. As the artist once said: “I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all its meaning.” The only interesting thing about the print is the tale of Dorothy Podber, who discharged a rather explosive critique of the print.

In the ‘50s and early ‘60s Ms. Podber was a kooky bohemian artist who lived in East Village, Manhattan. She told people she was a witch, a few considered her cracked because of her unhinged practical jokes. In the late ‘50s she ran in Beatnik circles that included the likes of Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones, and in the early ‘60s she helped run the Nonagon Art Gallery, where Yoko Ono first unleashed her conceptual art upon New York. In retrospect that might have been one of Podber’s deranged gags.

One autumn day in 1964 Podber and her entourage showed up at Warhol’s Factory studio on East 47th. Podber wore white gloves and was costumed in a black leather motorcycle jacket with matching biker pants. She asked Warhol if she could shoot the new Marilyn Monroe canvases stacked along a wall; thinking she was a photographer he answered yes. Podber took off her white gloves, reached into her purse, pulled out a diminutive semi-auto pistol, and began shooting the Monroe images in the forehead. When finished she placed the gun in her bag, put her gloves back on, gathered her retinue, and calmly left the Factory. A terrified Andy Warhol made sure the women would never again be given access to the premises.

For some reason Warhol didn’t file charges against Podber, but he did change the title for each of the five canvasses by adding the word “shot.” Red Marilyn became Shot Red Marilyn, Orange Marilyn became Shot Orange Marilyn, and so on for the turquoise, light blue, and sage blue versions. The only canvas not damaged by gunfire was the sage blue variant, nevertheless it received the “shot” title. Warhol had the damaged silkscreened canvasses repaired. The fact that the prints had been shot only increased their value. A strange world indeed.

So there you have it, that’s the chronicle of Dorothy Podber. It’s an exquisite tale, better than the story of how Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn was produced, but I wouldn’t give you a plugged nickel for either. CNN, always a journalistic farce, naturally reported on the $195 million sale. Their story mentioned the methods Warhol used in making various portraits of Marilyn, stating: “‘Shot Marilyns’ saw the artist shooting portraits of the star through the head with bullets.” They falsely credited Warhol, not Podber, for the vandalism. Why turn to CNN for news?

Andy Warhol’s soullessness and lack of political insight can be found in his late ‘70s work for the dictatorial monarch Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, more well known as the Shah of Iran. In 1953 the CIA staged a coup that overthrew Iran’s elected government for having nationalized Iran’s oil industry. It was the first regime change operation by the CIA. In the coup’s aftermath the Shah of Iran became the country’s iron-fisted pro-West ruler. His support primarily came from Western power brokers and Iran’s small number of Western educated elites.

Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi (Shah of Iran). Andy Warhol. Silkscreen on paper, 1977.

Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi (Shah of Iran). Andy Warhol. Silkscreen on paper, 1977.

However the Shah faced opposition from anti-monarchists, social democrats, leftists, and the working poor. But it was the fundamentalist Shi’a muslim majority that posed his biggest threat.

To maintain control the Shah established a massive secret police force that used kidnappings, imprisonment, beatings, torture, and assassinations to eliminate opponents. That was the situation in Iran when Warhol decided to visit the country in 1976.

The purpose of his sojourn was to take photos of the Shah and his wife, Empress Farah Pahlavi. The two Royals had commissioned Warhol to create their portraits in silkscreen.

Warhol delivered his finished commission to the Shah and the Empress in 1977, and was pictured posing with Empress Farah in front of her portrait in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum was founded in ‘77 by Farah, who also inaugurated its opening and was responsible for it’s expansion. In the 70’s Farah had purchased classical and contemporary art from a great number of Western artists, amassing the largest collection of Western art outside the US and Europe with an estimated worth is $3 billion. The Shi’a of Iran living under the Shah’s brutality couldn’t have cared less about her museum.

empress_farah_pahlavi_warhol_1977

Empress Farah Pahlavi. Andy Warhol. Silkscreen, 1977.

Many in the West were vexed that Warhol collaborated with the Shah. In 1977 the Village Voice published an article written by Alexander Cockburn, James Ridgeway, and Jan Albert titled Beautiful Butchers: The Shah Serves Up Caviar and Torture.

They mentioned the “fascist chic’s recording angel, Andy Warhol, with his Polaroid and his tape recorder,” as being one of the “beautiful people” who supported “one of the most savage regimes of the 20th century.” A violent revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979, sweeping fundamentalist Islamists into power; they banned modern art and closed the Tehran Museum. The Islamists hid Farah’s entire collection in the museum’s basement for decades.

Ironically the Jihadi militants allowed a small number of works from Farah’s collection to be exhibited in 2021, the show was titled: A Review of Andy Warhol’s Works. It displayed Warhol’s silly soup cans, and his silkscreen portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and the founding leader of Communist China, Mao Zedong. The Islamists left hidden in the basement the portraits of the Shah of Iran and Empress Farah Pahlavi… something the poor fools who flocked to the exhibition were never told. I bring up Warhol’s escapades in Iran to drive home a point. He was a liberal, but his political convictions were as shallow as the happy talk pablum one could read in the self-published Interview magazine he founded in 1969. Having been to Iran he knew what the score was, but it didn’t matter to him. He was obsessed with celebrity and money, and the Shah and Empress Farah had plenty of both.

Empress Farah Pahlavi with Andy Warhol at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Photographer unknown, 1977.

Empress Farah Pahlavi with Andy Warhol at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Photographer unknown, 1977.

In the mid-70s Warhol was also trying to get a portrait commission out of Imelda Marcos, the clothes-horse wife of Philippine dictator and kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos.

At the time many people in the Philippines couldn’t afford footwear, but Imelda had a growing collection of over 3,000 expensive shoes—I’m sure that impressed Warhol. Unfortunately for him the commission never came through, as the people of the Philippines drove Ferdinand and Imelda from power in the “People Power Revolution.” Wow, Andy sure could pick ‘em.

Toward the end of his meteoric career, Warhol remained preoccupied with the celebrity elite, but his limitless portraits of them became ever more superficial, monotonous, and geared towards quick market success. He had become the living embodiment of his famed quote “good business is the best art,” only he wasn’t producing his best any longer. As his works slipped into mediocrity, Andy Warhol was transformed into a dead metaphor by the corporate press, which endlessly repeated claims of his being a genius; they continue to make such declarations today.

In his brilliant 2008 documentary The Mona Lisa Curse, Robert Hughes (1938-2012) interviewed billionaire art dealer and collector Alberto Mugrabi, a man who at the time had some 800 Warhol’s in his private collection. Hughes asked Mugrabi “What’s your opinion of Warhol?” The collector answered, “I think he is probably the most visionary artist of our time.” Hughes responded with, “I thought he was one of the stupidest people I ever met in my life…. because he had nothing to say.”

Robert Hughes took a stand against the commodification and denigration of art by monied elites, and because of that stance he was the only art critic to gain my respect. In 2009 he won the International Emmy for Arts Programming for The Mona Lisa Curse, yet his documentary film has been almost entirely scrubbed from the internet. It certainly is never mentioned by the gatekeepers of the art world, whose mega-profits are threatened by the truths Hughes told. For that reason alone you should watch the movie.

After receiving the award, Hughes’ final remarks during the ceremony were these, perhaps the best way to close this report: “Forget about the prices. Forget about what Sotheby’s and Christie’s has been doing about our perception of art. Just remember what the serious art is, and why, if we love it, we do love it.”

Ayotzinapa; Between pain and hope

Carlos Lorenzo Hernández Muñoz - Poster of the missing 19-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Laila Cohen.

"Carlos Lorenzo Hernández Muñoz" - Poster of the missing 19-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Laila Cohen. José Guadalupe Posada's famous La Calavera Catrina can be seen over the student's shoulder along with the Virgen de Guadalupe.

El Día de la Revolución is celebrated every year in Mexico on the 20th of November. The occasion this year marks the 104th anniversary of the 1910 revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. This year however will be different. The government has cancelled the annual military parade that ordinarily fills the capital’s streets. Instead, the Mexican people will participate in a nationwide protest and a general strike on Nov. 20, 2014. They will continue the protests against the government kidnapping and probable murder of 43 students that has outraged Mexico for almost two months.

Leonel Castro Abarca - Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Bodox.

"Leonel Castro Abarca" - Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Bodox.

This essay is about the Mexican citizens and artists that are playing a role in that uprising. The posters in this essay came from Mexican artists who created portraits of the 43 missing students disappeared by state “authorities” in Guerrero, Mexico. But before talking about the posters, here is some background on the story.

On Sept. 26, 2014 the police in the town of Iguala, located in the Mexican state of Guerrero, attacked students from the all male “Escuela Normal Raúl Isidro Burgos” teacher’s college in the town of Ayotzinapa. The students were preparing to protest against unfair government hiring practices in education. The officers killed 3 of the Ayotzinapa students in Iguala, wounded 25 others, and also killed 3 bystanders.

The police then rounded up 43 surviving students and handed them over to Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), one of the criminal drug cartels plaguing the country. It is presumed the drug gang murdered their captives on behalf of the corrupt police.

The next day one of the students, 22-year old Julio César Mondragón, was found dumped on a street in Iguala for all to see. Whether he was a victim of the police or the gang is not known, but a medical examination confirmed that Mondragón had been tortured to death - his face and skull had been completely flayed and both his eyes gouged out. A student at Ayotzinapa for only a month before his death, Mondragón is survived by his 24-year old wife and their 3-month old baby daughter.

Giovanni Galindes Guerrero - Poster of the missing 20-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Argel Gómez Concheiro.

"Giovanni Galindes Guerrero" - Poster of the missing 20-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Argel Gómez Concheiro.

After the Iguala story broke, the mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, went into hiding. They were found in Mexico City and arrested by federal authorities who insist the couple were the “masterminds” behind the attacks on the students.

It is claimed the mayor gave orders to police to apprehend the students before they disrupted a speech to be given by his wife. On Nov. 14, 2014 the government formally charged Abarca for being behind the students’ kidnapping.

Nevertheless, there are far too many open questions regarding the case of the 43 missing students to consider it closed, for instance, where are their bodies?

The Mexican government has unearthed a number of clandestine graves in and around Iguala, but none contain the 43 students. They do however contain remains of dozens of people apparently killed in mass executions. But who were they? Who killed them? Protest signs seen on Mexican streets have some answers - Mexico es una fosa (Mexico is a grave), and Los asesinos están en palacio nacional (the assassins are in the national palace).

At a Nov. 7, 2014 news conference, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam claimed that three members of Guerreros Unidos confessed to killing the 43 students, incinerating their bodies and placing their remains in garbage bags, then dumping the contents into a river. Karam said authorities have retrieved one such bag and sent its contents to a medical lab in Austria for DNA analysis. Meanwhile, the families of the missing students asked the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) to investigate the remains found so far. On Nov. 11 the forensic experts reported that the remains did not have “biological kinship” with the missing students.

"Abel García Hernández" - Poster of the missing 21-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Jorge Zapata.

"Abel García Hernández" - Poster of the missing 21-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Jorge Zapata.

What the Ayotzinapa tragedy has revealed about Mexico is that large sectors of the state apparatus - police, armed forces, courts, and politicians - have merged with the deadly drug cartels. This merger is aptly described by the signs now carried in the streets by protestors identifying those that kidnapped the 43 students, Fue El Estado - “It was the state.”

The shadow narco terror state incorporates municipal, state, and federal officials, and spends much of its time in the drug business. A 2012 article by CNN stated that Mexican drug cartels annually move $39 billion worth of cocaine and heroin into the United States. What no one will say is that Mexicans are dying like flies to support America’s drug habit.

The posters displayed in this article came from #IlustradoresConAyotzinapa, a Mexican Tumblr account where over 200 Mexican artists have created portraits of the missing students. The artists began painting the disappeared students to humanize them, to further ingrain them in the public consciousness, and to embolden the Mexican movement for democracy and human rights. The posters on the Tumblr account have been printed out and carried in demonstrations in Mexico and around the world. Some of the posters are produced by amateurs, the majority however are produced by professional artists.

"Alexander Mora Venancio" - Poster of the missing 21-year old Ayotzinapa student created by José Quintero.

"Alexander Mora Venancio" - Poster of the missing 21-year old Ayotzinapa student created by José Quintero.

While digital media plays a large part in the production of the posters, a variety of artistic mediums are employed; drawings done in pencil, chalk, or pen and ink, watercolors, linoleum and woodcut prints, paintings in acrylic or oils. Even sculptural and embroidered works. A number of posters offer serious treatments of the subject matter, others are humorous and fanciful in the Mexican folkloric tradition. All are touching and deeply compassionate.

The artists at the Tumblr account have apparently inspired others; in this video artists in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero, paint portraits of the students in a public square.

The Ayotzinapa posters bring up an important question for artists everywhere. What is the purpose of art? Is it just a commodity for wealthy elites? The Ayotzinapa posters are perfect examples of art springing from the people, the very antithesis of the detached and “apolitical” postmodern art found in today’s museums and galleries. The posters were done for a pure and noble social purpose, they defy the politics of the so-called art world - obsessed as it is with stardom and ostentatious wealth. Those making the Ayotzinapa posters will likely never appear in museums or galleries, but their creations have deeply worked their way into the hearts and minds of the people, expanding and deepening the very definition of Mexican culture.

"Luis Ángel Abarca Carrillo" - Ink drawing. Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Diego Molina.

"Luis Ángel Abarca Carrillo" - Ink drawing. Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Diego Molina.

A caption that appears on each portrait on the Ayotzinapa Tumblr account asks a question regarding the portrayed missing student, “I want to know where” he is. In other words the person depicted is a desaparecido - one who has been made to “disappear.”

Desaparecido is a Spanish word that describes a type of repression I first became familiar with during the October 1968 Summer Olympics held in Mexico’s capital. Ten days before the Olympic games began in Aug. 1968, the county’s student movement assembled in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco to demand democracy and human rights.

President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz ordered the plaza cleared with 8,000 soldiers and dozens of tanks, the result was the army killing upwards of 300 students. The regime destroyed the student movement by making its leaders and supporters disappear - through kidnapping, false imprisonment, and murder by state security forces. No one was ever brought to justice for these crimes.

For those who march in Mexico today, Ni 43, No 68 (Not 43 or 68) is a popular slogan that refers to the slaughter in Tlatelolco. Mexicans have not forgotten that President Ordaz was a member of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), the same authoritarian party of today’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. In fact, the 43 kidnapped Ayotzinapa students intended to join the annual October 2 protest held in Mexico City to commemorate the events of Tlatelolco in 1968.

"Leonel Castro Abarca" - Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Ricardo Peláez Goycochea.

"Leonel Castro Abarca" - Poster of the missing 18-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Ricardo Peláez Goycochea.

The regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala disappeared thousands of their civilians in the 1980s, more than 50,000 in Guatemala and 8,000 in El Salvador. November 16, 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the U.S. trained Salvadoran Army’s Atlacatl Battalion going onto the campus of the Universidad Centroamericana in San Salvador, and murdering six Jesuit scholars, their housekeeper and her daughter.

Each were shot in the back of the head. Crimes like these became the subject of much of my art during that period. I imagined that Latin America would someday be free of such tyranny - but in today’s Mexico, there are now some 29,000 desaparecidos.

Addressing the disappearance of the 43 students and the wider issue of government corruption and violence, the students and teachers of Mexico’s National School of Dramatic Arts (ENAT), have been doing public performances - interventions if you will - all around the capital. In this amazing YouTube video of one such performance in the courtyard of the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City, the students tell the tale of those gunned down by Iguala police. This is what “performance art” should be all about.

Reading the U.S. media on the current situation in Mexico, one cannot find a single mention that President Enrique Peña Nieto most likely came to power in the 2012 elections due to massive fraud. In poor neighborhoods, the PRI party distributed a purported $8.2 million in pre-paid gift cards for Soriana grocery stores in exchange for votes of Nieto. There were also charges that Nieto and the PRI purchased positive media coverage from Televisa and other media outlets.

"Jorge Aníbal Cruz Mendoza" - Poster of the missing 19-year old Ayotzinapa student created by Gabriel Pacheco.

"Jorge Aníbal Cruz Mendoza" - Poster of the missing 19-year old Ayotzinapa student created by artist Gabriel Pacheco.

Before the 2012 vote count was tallied and announced, Nieto declared himself to be the new president. As hundreds of thousands of Mexicans marched in the streets to oppose his sham election, President Obama called Nieto to congratulate him on his “victory.”

In 1990 the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa said live on Mexican television, that “Mexico is the perfect dictatorship. The perfect dictatorship is not communism, not the USSR, not Fidel Castro; the perfect dictatorship is Mexico, because it is a camouflaged dictatorship.”

Perhaps Obama never heard of Mr. Llosa or his description of the perfect dictatorship. Interestingly enough, Obama has currently said nothing about the upheaval in Mexico. Secretary of State Kerry has been silent, as have all other members of the Obama administration. The only person to offer a comment was Jennifer Psaki, the spokesperson for the State Department, who on Nov. 13, 2014 simply said “We urge all parties to remain calm through the process.”

"Jorge Antonio Tizapa" - Woodcut poster of the missing Ayotzinapa student created by Claus López López.

"Jorge Antonio Tizapa" - Woodcut poster of the missing Ayotzinapa student created by Claus López López.

Maybe President Obama is made uncomfortable by the fact that his administration provides $15 million in military aid to Mexico, up from the $3 million it received in 2009.

Evidently it is difficult for the President to justify his arming a narco terror state while it murders its own people, so it was thought best just to keep quiet.

The Mérida Initiative signed by President Bush in 2008 and since extended by Obama “indefinitely,” provides $2.1 billion to Mexican security forces fighting the so-called drug war. Since 2006 the U.S. government has spent $3 billion on funding the Mexican government’s “war on drugs,” a joke if there ever was one.  The US government is indirectly arming the very drug cartels it says it wants to eradicate.

The 2012 election returned the corrupt PRI to power, the authoritarian party that ran Mexico for 70 years. That reign was broken in 2000 when Vicente Fox of the conservative PAN (Partido Acción Nacional) won the presidency, followed by Felipe Calderón of the PAN, who became president in 2006. Calderón will likely be remembered for Mexico’s bloodiest years since the 1910 revolution. In 2006 he supposedly began a war against the drug cartels then running large swaths of Mexico. By the end of Calderón’s six year term, the cartels were stronger than ever and an estimated 110,000 civilians had perished in the conflict.

"Julio César López Patoltzin" - Poster of the missing Ayotzinapa student created by Rodrigo Padilla López. The artist used digital media to replicate the visual effects of traditional Mexican woodcuts, and used the Aztec Náhuatl language to ask the question "Kampa ka?" (¿Dónde está?)

"Julio César López Patoltzin" - Poster of the missing Ayotzinapa student created by Rodrigo Padilla López. The artist used digital media to replicate the visual effects of traditional Mexican woodcuts, and used the Aztec Náhuatl language to ask the question "Kampa ka?" (¿Dónde está?)

Placing the deaths of so may innocent Mexican citizens in context, it should be remembered that during the approximately 17-year long Vietnam war, some 60,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat. Nearly twice that number of Mexican citizens died in just six years of Calderón’s drug war. Since President Nieto took power in 2012, another 29,000 citizens have perished in the war. Then came the disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa; it took Nieto 11 days before he said a word about the kidnapping.

During his Nov. 7 news conference announcing the apparent killing of the 43, Attorney General Karam tried to stop questions from the press by saying, “Ya me canse” (I’ve had enough). His words became a rallying cry. Mexican filmmaker Natalia Beristan perhaps said it best when she appeared in a YouTube video response to Karam’s statement. Beristan said: “Señor Murillo Karam, I too am tired. I’m tired of vanished Mexicans, of the killing of women, of the dead, of the decapitated, of the bodies hanging from bridges, of broken families, of mothers without children, of children without fathers. I am tired of the political class that has kidnapped my country, and of the class that corrupts, that lies, that kills. I too am tired.”

There are other filmmakers that share Ms. Beristan’s opinion. On Nov. 11, 2014, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City held its annual film benefit, this time a tribute to Mexican filmmaker, Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Cuaron wrote a collective statement with fellow Mexican filmmakers Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), which was read before the elite audience at MoMA by del Toro. The statement read in part:

“This past September, 43 students were kidnapped by the local police in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. After a period of apathy, the authorities only then were forced to search for them, due to the protestations of citizens across the entire country and the world, and they found the first of many, many mass graves. None of these graves contained the remains of the missing students. The bodies within them were those of other anonymous victims. Last week, the general attorney announced that the 43 students were handed over by the police to members of a drug cartel to be executed and burned in a public dump. But even the identity of those charred remains awaits proper DNA.

The federal government argues that these events are all just local violence — not so. As Human Rights Watch observes, these killings and forced disappearances reflect a much broader pattern of abuse and are largely a consequence of the longstanding failure of the Mexican authorities.

We believe that these crimes are systemic and indicate a much greater evil: the blurred lines between organized crime and the high-ranking officials in the Mexican government. We must demand answers about this and we must do it now. We would like to take this opportunity to ask you all to join us in the pain and indignation felt by the families of the disappeared students and of every civilian in Mexico who is living with this atrocious reality on an every day basis and to at least be aware of this systematic human rights violation taking place so often and so close to you.”

In today’s Mexico there is a modern expression that illustrates the country’s agony; Ayotzinapa; Entre el dolor y la esperanza. In English the phrase translates to “Ayotzinapa; Between pain and hope.” The pain emanating from the place is a distillation of Mexico’s entire blood-spattered history, but it is also an anguish recognized by working people no matter where they live. Likewise, the optimism pouring forth from Ayotzinapa, inspires not just Mexicanos but people all across the globe who dream of a better world.

– // –

UPDATES

Videos that document the November 20, 2014 demonstration:
Students of the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), created this 4 minute video on the Nov. 20, 2014 march.

The Mexican website Animal Policito made a video of the Nov. 20 march that documents the size of the crowds through the use of drone cameras.

“War Cry” video:
Grito de Guerra is a new song produced by a collective of 30 Mexican recording artists. The video for the composition incorporates images from recent demonstrations along with footage of the song being recorded in the studio. On Nov. 27, 2014, Grito will be released on iTunes and other platforms, with the proceeds going to the parents of the missing students.

Dia de los Muertos - Monoprints

"Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43" - Mark Vallen. Monoprint. 6 x 8 inches. 2014 ©

"Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43" - Mark Vallen. Monoprint. 6 x 8 inches. 2014 ©. Printed on Arches watercolor paper with eleven different oil colors.

To mark the 2014 observance of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), I have created a suite of twenty monoprints based upon an ancient Aztec glyph representing death. Essentially a printed painting, no two images are alike. The images were painted directly on a sheet of glass in oil paint, and burnished with a wooden spoon; each color was “pulled” separately.

Working with cadmium yellows, oranges, and reds, I printed starting with the lightest warm colors and worked-up to the darker hues like vermillion and rose madder. I added contrasting cool colors - cinnabar green, emerald green and cerulean blue - with a final dark purple pulling all the colors together and giving form to the calaca (skull) glyph. When buying these monoprints, remember that each stand-alone print is unique, and that I cannot guarantee that your purchase will have anything more than a general likeness to those displayed here. However, I curated the prints and found each one suitable for inclusion in the suite. Each print is hand-signed with the artist’s signature, date, and the title of the print - Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43.

And what is the meaning behind the title of the print?

43 male members of the Normal Rural School of Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero disappeared on Sept. 26, 2014 after being kidnapped by the police. The cops handed their prisoners to members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, who allegedly murdered them. Since then the people of Mexico have held protests and other activities to place the blame on the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto and his allies in Washington, D.C. While dozens of suspects have been arrested, not one has been charged with any crime, likewise, not a single member of the 43 male students has been found. Other mass graves have been discovered in the area, some 12 large graves, but the students were not found in them. Since 2007, some 100,000 civilians have perished in the so-called “drug war.”

Banners, flyers, street art, and graffiti have appeared across the country, some reading Todos Somos Ayotzinapa (We Are All Ayotzinapa), Fue El Estado (It was the state), and Vivos Los Llevaron, Vivos Los Queremos! (They were taken away alive, we want them back alive!). The popular slogan Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43, is the title of my monotype series. It simply means, “Ayotzinapa, 43 are missing.”

With my Ayotzinapa print I mean to bring attention to the current situation in Mexico; the corruption and collusion of government forces like the courts, ruing elites, and the police and army with the criminal drug gangs that run large areas of the nation; the U.S. government arming and training Mexican security forces as well as the drug gangs, and the Mexican democratic masses themselves, who protest at every opportunity against the depravity of the Mexican state. On October 29, 2014, President Nieto met with relatives of the missing students, promising that they would be found, but the relatives were not impressed.

Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43 represents a new period of print experimentation for me, and in the months to come a number of new monotype prints will appear on this web log.

So on this Día de los Muertos, remain vigilant and do not forget… in Ayotzinapa, 43 are missing.

$100. Ayotzinapa: Faltan 43 - Mark Vallen. Monoprint. 6 x 8 inches. 2014.
Purchase your print here.

Artworks by Mark Vallen ©

Four examples from the print series that show the differences in each print.

“The Gaze”: Silkscreen Print

The Gaze - Silkscreen print by Mark Vallen ©The Gaze” - Black & White serigraphic print. 1980
(c) Mark Vallen. Hand pulled by the artist
Dimensions: 17.5″ x 23″ inches
Signed and numbered by the artist
Edition of 16

I created this silkscreen portrait print of a young woman in 1980. During that period I was doing quite a lot of work in serigraphy, generally making prints of a political nature. As evidenced in the above, I was also interested in creating works of a more personal disposition. Though trained in modern methods of silkscreen printing, I never liked transferring photographic images onto a screen using chemicals and emulsions or even by means of laboriously cutting paper or film stencils. I have always enjoyed a “hands on” approach to serigraphy; drawing directly on the screen so that the gesture of drawing becomes part of the print.

Because of that preference, I developed a method of drawing directly onto the screen using oil-based lithographer’s pencils and crayons, complemented by painting lithographer’s touche onto the screen with a brush as if I were painting a canvas. Once dried I then flooding the screen with water-based glue. The “stencils” produced bore results akin to lithographic techniques, allowing for great spontaneity, subtle gradations in tone, remarkable textures, and best of all - since one could never fully control the medium - finished prints that were full of surprise and “the artist’s hand”.

While I did create prints in color, I had, and still have, a preference for prints in black and white, which on the whole I feel are more enigmatic and melancholy - which suits me fine. Some of my favorite silkscreen works from that period of experimentation were created by using the method I explained in the above. Of those prints I especially like The Gaze. Similar black and white serigraphic prints I created during those days will be available on this web log in months to come.