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"Carmen Flores: In Order to Be Safe" opens at Lawndale Art Center

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It's no surprise that Carmen Flores, a visual artist from Mexico, might choose to explore the idea of violence in her work. Mexico's drug wars, police corruption and the hundreds of women who have been brutally killed in Juarez over the last few years have given the country a reputation as a haven for outlaws who use guns as their primary means of communication.

Her exhibit "In Order to be Safe...," a collection of drawings that explore the normalization of violence and its effect on individuals, is opening at the Lawndale Art Center this weekend, along with several other new exhibits.

"Part of my work, I use blackboard," she tells Art Attack in slightly stilted English, her Spanish accent creeping through. "I use different layers of drawings on the blackboard, [referencing] learning aids in school. The idea is that the same way we learn in school about biology, geography, now we are learning new information about how to be safe when confronting a violent event."

Flores says she isn't worried that her work will continue the normalization of violence, saying that she can visually discuss violence without showing menaching or frightening images. "My pictures are not violent," she says. "I show diagrams of guns, the steps to do when confronting a violent event. I do have a figure with a gun in his hands, but I repeat the image so many times that it looks abstract, like a dream. Not menacing, at all."

Formerly based in Georgia, Flores recognizes the role geography plays in people's understanding of her work. "Showing my work in Texas, in Houston, I couldn't find a better city to have my exhibit. People here are very familiar with what's going on at the border. In Mexico the people are dying because of those [drug] wars, but in the United States, the violence in kinda different, for different reasons. But at the end, the number of people who have died in violent events are almost even."

She goes on to say that the two countries, like it or not, are closely tied together. "The guns that the narcos use to protect themselves, they come from the United States, so it's impossible to separate the violence here from the violence there. They are very connected. That's why I was very interested in showing my work in a border state. We're in Texas and Mexico is right next door, so we better get interested in the news of the other country. We can't say, 'Oh, that doesn't affect me.' It does. And maybe more than people realize."

Flores says she hasn't been a victim of physical violence, but she has been in a mall when a shooting was going on. She was at home when a bomb exploded down the block and caused some damage to her home. "Thank God, I haven't been affected directly, I haven't been shot, for example. But I was still affected by those incidents."

After an opening night reception at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, April 22, "In Order to Be Safe" will run through June 4. For information, call 713-528-5858. Free.

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