The Art of War

The Cronicas exhibit, highlighted by Fernando Brito's photos, offers strong indictments of drug-related violence.

Fernando Brito was a marketing graduate who couldn't find a job in his hometown of Culiacán. His photographer brother turned down a photo editor job at a newspaper there, but recommended Brito, who up to that point had taken photos only as a hobby. Brito says the paper was "half violence and half family." Every front page would have a "dead body, a seminude woman and 'tips for the family'" — basically articles for homemakers with tips for tasty and inexpensive meals.

Since 2004, Brito has recorded death, photographing the casualties of the drug war. His work is a standout in FotoFest's "Crónicas: Seven Contemporary Mexican Artists Confront the Drug War," a show that features a lot of other strong work. Curated by Jennifer Ward, "Crónicas" ­presents the work of seven young artists who grew up in regions that are today plagued by widespread narco-related violence. Their work addresses the violence that skyrocketed to horrific levels during President Felipe Calderón's militarization of the drug war, an act that led to commensurate militarization of the cartels.

Houston-based Ivete Lucas created a scathing montage of video clips that indicts the United States and Mexico in the drug war. Lucas took scenes of massacre and darkly intercut them with U.S. spring breakers partying in Mexico. Dancing and singing children from a cheezy 1980's Mexican TV show are thrown in the mix with pontificating politicians, weed-smoking Paris Hilton and "drug war" news coverage complete with shots of bought-in-the U.S.A. assault weapons. Pedro Reyes's Palas por Pistolas (Shoves for Pistols) practically and poetically attempts to heal the violence by collecting weapons and melting them down into shovels used to plant trees — an exchange of death for life. (Citizens of Culiacán donated 1,527 guns and received coupons for home appliances. Forty percent of the weapons were military-style automatics. They were crushed by the military using a steamroller and melted into 1,527 shovels used to plant trees in Culiacán.)

Fernando Brito's Untitled from Tus Pasos se Perdieron con el Paisaje, 2010-2012 is one of his many records of death.
Courtesy of the artist
Fernando Brito's Untitled from Tus Pasos se Perdieron con el Paisaje, 2010-2012 is one of his many records of death.

Location Info


Vine Street Studios

1113 Vine St.
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Downtown/ Midtown


"Crónicas: Seven Contemporary Mexican Artists Confront the Drug War"

Through March 9. FotoFest, 1113 Vine St., 713-223-5522.

A couple of the artists have left Mexico, like Lucas, and most have left their hometowns or go back and forth between them and other cities. Brito, as the photo editor of a daily newspaper in Culiacán, is the most entrenched. Culiacán is in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, home of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, reportedly the most powerful drug-trafficking organization in the world. Its leader, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, was included in the Forbes list of billionares and was No. 63 on last year's list of the most powerful people. His reach is so far and so nefarious that he was just named Chicago's public enemy No. 1.

"I always think of the family and think about how they would feel; I put myself in their shoes," Brito says of photographing hundreds of murder victims during his nine years as a newspaper photographer. I spoke with Brito while he was in Houston to present his work in conjunction with a lecture at the University of St. Thomas by Dr. Tony Payan, "A War That Can't Be Won: Binational Perspectives on the Drug War." The paper Brito started out with walked the line of violence and gore. Death was not shown in all its full-frontal gore. Brito says, "We started to show a detail, to show what happened. If a woman is murdered, we don't show the woman, we only show their feet with the socks. You don't have to show violence; you know you are going to read about violence."

As Brito was taking photographs for his job, he started taking additional images. "One is for the history, why it has happened; the other is for the newspaper to publish and the other is for my project." Brito's photographic project didn't start out as such. It was more of a personal response. He recorded the corpses in the larger landscape, not as gory evidence of the drug war. Brito didn't show those photos to anyone for years. And then someone saw them and told him they were good. 'When I began this project, I never thought it would be successful. I only thought to show a problem."

Images from his series Tus Pasos se Perdieron con el Paisaje (Your Steps Were Lost in the Landscape), 2006-2012, are included in "Crónicas." In one untitled photograph, a shirtless man is curled on the ground against a backdrop of lush green vines. He could almost be napping, dwarfed by tall, rangy trees that run off the picture plane. The image is dominated by the lovely landscape, which reads almost like a shrine to the dead man lying in it. It's as if Brito is trying to ennoble the scenes into which these people — fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters — have been dumped like so much garbage.

The landscapes are tranquil, offering respite from the violence of the victims' deaths. Morning mist hovers over two prone figures in another untitled image, a deep wound visible on the hip of one. The hazy silhouette of a tree is in the center of the picture, its trunk angled as if kneeling in grief.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

Prohibitionists literally don't give a darn about the welfare of individual citizens. That's you, me and everyone you care about. They don't care even when their policy means destroying the whole economy or bank-rolling criminals and terrorists. The prohibitionist onslaught appears to be simply a war directed at all of us. 

America it is time to wake up. Prohibition is a cultural and economic assault on your money, on your careers, on your ability to put food on the table, have shelter, cloth yourself, and even survive or self-medicate. The fiscal cliff isn't the crisis. Prohibitionist control over America's politics and government is.

If you sincerely believe that prohibition is a dangerous and counter-productive policy then you can stop helping to enforce it. You are entitled—required even—to act according to your conscience. 

* It only takes one juror to prevent a guilty verdict. 

* You are not lawfully required to disclose your voting intention before taking your seat on a jury.

* You are also not required to give a reason to the other jurors on your position when voting. Simply state that you find the accused not guilty!

* Jurors must understand that it is their opinion, their vote. If the Judge and the other jurors disapprove, too bad. There is no punishment for having a dissenting opinion.

We must create what we can no longer afford to wait for and end the most destructive, dysfunctional, dishonest and racist social policy since Slavery.