FotoFest's Crónicas: Beautiful, Yet Bleak Look at Mexico

Friday night, FotoFest opened its latest exhibition Crónicas, which is a multi-media group show featuring seven Mexican artists. Each of the artists' work examines the culture of violence that has been so prevalent in Mexico over the past few years. The exhibition runs through March 9 and is on display at the Fotofest gallery at Vine Street.

While the mediums of the artists are very varied, the tone and feel of the show is one of consistence: Mexico is apparently a very scary place.

In artist Miguel Aragón's series of "Hand Drilled Portraits" the artist layers hand-drilled paper over Xerox to create a fantastic visual effect. The style is reminiscent of pointillism, where the conglomeration of the holes makes up a complete image when you step away. The images are that of faces that he describes as "innocent bystanders and cartel members." They are long and dark and the effect of black on white creates a sad, emptiness. The process itself is somewhat aggressive and the portraits reflect the hostile nature of atmosphere. Aragón descends from Juárez, which is known for its brutality.

Ivete Lucas assembled more than 500 videos for her piece "¡Felicidades Mexico!" featuring footage of local Mexican political and international news shows, government accounts as well as clips of the escalating violence of the country. This footage is intercut among videos of Americans visiting Mexico for spring break. Death and destruction makes way to tequila shots and beach bikini dance parties. Its impact is quite effective. What is going on with this country? How can these two, vastly different, scenarios exist in tandem? As the images moved across the screen, the most happy-go-lucky, infectious Mexico-themed song backed the videos adding to the eeriness of the theme.

One of the most interesting, although least traditionally artistic, pieces is by Pedro Reyes. As the story goes, Reyes created a movement, of sorts, in an attempt to curb the gun violence in his hometown of Culiacán. He challenged citizens to voluntarily drop off their guns to be melted down and turned into shovels. The result was miraculous. Fifteen hundred and twenty-seven weapons were turned into 1,527 shovels that were used to plant 1,527 trees across the country. The walls of Vine Street held five of these shovels to illustrate this story. The shovels will be used for a tree planting event in Houston's Guadalupe Plaza Park on February 23. The story is one of the more inspiring and hopeful pieces of the show, which otherwise is quite bleak.

As this is FotoFest one might have hoped for more photography, which is sparse. Artist Jorge Arreola Barraza's series of photos showcase the destitution of Juárez from an economical perspective. Empty streets, boarded up shops and blank white billboards demonstrate that the violence of the city has taken its toll in so many facets, not just with guns and drugs. The streets are haunted and desolate.

Even more upsetting are the photographs of Fernando Brito's collection entitled "Your Steps Were Lost In the Landscape." Brito's lush and gorgeous color photos feature outdoor settings and by all intents and purposes the imagery is stunning save the dead bodies littering canvas. One after one, the photos show the real and actual result of the violence of Mexico. Corpses, either forgotten or unnamed, gunned down, murdered or in a seeming attempt at escape, are the focuses of Brito's artwork. Several of the pictures are so upsetting; it is difficult to look at them for very long. Where Barraza captures the sociological aspect the crimes of the country has caused, Brito gives a brazen illustration of the real horrors.

As a show, the consistency of subject matter is spot on. This collection may not, however, appeal to the Mexican board of tourism. Aside from the shovels of Pedro Reyes, none of the artists gave any sense of hope or made you believe anything other than the hard, cold truth of the matter. Things are bad, and they are not getting any better. But each artist took a profoundly different approach to the issue and gave patrons much to contemplate.

Crónicas is on exhibit now through March 9 at the FotoFest Gallery at Vine Street. Viewing hours vary. Visit for more information.

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Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig