Presence of an Absence

Having watched a screening of the documentary Blood Rising as part of the group exhibition Presence of an Absence curated by Georgianna Cardosa Ainsworth at The Birley Project Space, it was difficult to then marry the concept of a Mexican body dump with the soft voluptuous forms contained within Georgianna’s oil and acrylic painting of a calla lily. But as the artist explained, as an emblem of peace and love in the ugly face of corruption the purity of the lily becomes a powerful agent. In a country spiralling out of control, where violence begets violence, an alternative method of demonstration – through the medium of art – has a much greater chance of triggering a break in the cycle. And, originating from Mexico City herself, it’s a subject close to Georgianna’s heart. The country’s crisis became a personal one when a friend was brutally murdered five years ago. Her photograph joins the wallpaper of posters of men, women and children ‘missing presumed dead’ in the last 3 months alone.

The film, made in 2014 and directed by Mark McLoughlin, exposes the desperate situation for women in the poorer urban areas of Mexico, notably Juarez. In an attempt to highlight the suffering of the victims and their relatives the artist Brian Maguire gives them the chance to share memories and in doing so gives a voice to an impoverished community feeling increasingly forgotten. Inspired by their stories he produces a portrait of each of the deceased (someone’s mother or sister or daughter) as a more positive and endurable memorial. Presented quietly, the paintings are then displayed proudly in meagre front rooms, hanging askew next to posters of ‘Tweety Pie’ and faded photographs.

Flores del Desierto is an installation representing the number of women killed in Juarez in the last twenty years. A colourful swathe of fabric, charity shop sheets, screen-printed and hand decorated, repeat the floral image. A lily becomes a female contour becomes a lily. A thousand squares representing a thousand lives. The installation is an ongoing project, reflecting the issue as a global concern. Georgianna now holds workshops for artists and the public, where contributors can decorate panels to be included in the next phase of its expansion.

Lining the walls are black and white images by Rocio Sifuentes and Julio Ancira capturing the defiant solidarity displayed during anti-corruption marches held in Mexico City.

Despite the despair inherent in depicting such difficult themes Georgianna has managed to produce an exhibition that provokes optimism, the essence of hope opening up like the petals of the calla lily. As a project Flores del Desierto conveys notions of togetherness and nurturing. The physical presence of the sewing machine acts not only as a symbol of industry and sweatshops, but also of domesticity representing motherhood, care, resilience and pride. Influenced by the words of Suzanne Lacy to ‘make art that matters’ Georgianna joins a growing number of socially-engaged artists who are proposing different ways to instigate change, motivating creativity as a means of raising awareness and initiating discussion on important issues such as these.

Sam Pickett is an artist based in Preston.

Presence of an Absence, The Birley Project Space, Preston.

18 June – 10 July 2015.

Published 08.07.2015 by James Schofield in Reviews

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