In This Issue
David Kupfer ● Northeast US: Lily Yeh Interview
Reiko Goto and Tim Collins ● Scotland: PLEIN AIR, Ethics & Art
Joyce Janvier and Elina Chauvet ● Mexico: Elina Chauvet Interview
Elizabeth Stanek ● Northwest US: The Dispersal Project
Jane Ingram Allen ● Taiwan: Emerging EcoArt, Part I
Veronica Wiman ● Colombia: A Utopian Ecoart Experiment
Liza Behrendt ● India: Beauty of Water
Patricia Watts ● Taiwan: Going Green Exhibit
Amalia Mesa Bains ● Art and Spirit Across The Landscape
Susan Leibovitz Steinman ● BORDER CROSSINGS
RED SHOES PROJECT
ABOUT ELINA CHAUVET
ELINA HAS EARNED NUMEROUS AWARDS, including two at the Biennale Noroeste and a grant from the Culture and Arts Commission of Sinaloa for the 2006-2007 edition of her project the Reality of Realities.
In the United States, she created the exhibit Signals at Goucher College, Baltimore, MD in 2005. In 2006 Signals which then traveled to an exhibit in Hollywood, Florida.
Here, award winning journalist, Joyce Janvier asks Chauvet about her life and her newest project The Red Shoes.
Joyce Janvier and Elina Chauvet initials will be used in the following questions and answers.
JJ: WHAT LED YOU TO BECOME AN ARTIST?
EC: IN MY CHILDHOOD I WAS ALWAYS BUILDING and inventing things, immersed in my own imaginary world. From the age of eight I knew I wanted to study art and architecture. I studied a little architecture, but could not study art seriously in Ciudad Juarez where I lived, as there was no dedicated visual arts school. (Today it has a wonderful arts school. Unfortunately, now it is in danger of closing for lack of students. Many teachers left the City.)
I started as self-taught—not an easy role in a world where many artists have degrees. But later I was fortunate to take workshops with renowned Mexican and American artists, including Luis Nishizawa, Roger Von Gunten, Leñero Alberto Castro, Jose Castro Leñero, Luis Felipe Ortega, Kerry Vander Meer, and Marianna Dellenkamp. My abilities are the product of many years of work, trial and error. I’m always exploring, investigating, drawing conclusions and generating more questions.
I declared myself an artist in 1994, the very same year I was awarded a prize for an oil painting. The prize money gave me the opportunity to devote a year to painting. The award included a culminating exhibition of the work done that year. This was my first solo show and definitely my first professional foray into the world of art. That happened in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, where I had moved in 1991.
JJ: WHAT IS YOUR WORK ABOUT? WHAT ARE YOUR INTERESTS?
EC: THE SUBJECTS OF MY PAINTING ARE PRIMARILY political—although, still, some are about lost love. The political subjects cover a broad range from immigration, the missing or murdered women of Juarez, assassination and corruption in Mexican politics—including the government of Vicente Fox, and drug trafficking.
JJ: TELL US ABOUT THE RED SHOES PROJECT.
EC: RED SHOES IS PERSONALLY AND POLITICALLY a most important project for me. Due to be finished in September 2011, it is still a work in progress. I began working on it in 2009 in Ciudad Juarez, my native city. It grew out of an earlier project in community art workshops.
The Ciudad Juarez city government, along with state and federal governments, awarded grants for artists to give courses in communities with vulnerable people in summer 2010. My project was selected which consisted of two workshops for children and young people to make art from recycled objects. In the first workshop I worked with young children and their mothers who painted and assembled a multitude of small objects, all made from waste. Moms learned to make jewelry. For the second workshop I worked with young graffiti artists, asking them to step into sculpture and to paint in three dimensions. The idea was immediately greeted with enthusiasm. The result is a metal sculpture made by teens with a new artists’ group called Indian Brook.
While there, I saw firsthand that the violence in Ciudad Juarez had escalated out of control. The military came to town bringing more violence. In my visits downtown I was alarmed to see how many posters for missing girls were stuck to the telephone poles. That’s when I realized that the women in Juarez were dying or disappearing. Then and there I began to ask questions but did not find answers. Stories of women went underreported. The settling of accounts among gangs was treated with more importance; that was what made headlines in the newspapers. Plus, a lot of my past artwork speaks of domestic violence. This is an issue I know. That’s how my idea for the RED SHOES project was born.
JJ: WHY SHOES?
EC: WHILE RESEARCHING STORIES I FOUND a common thread—shoes. Several of the missing young women worked in shoe stores, were on their way to find work in a shoe shop, or were going shopping for shoes. This similarity caught my attention. Plus, in my past work shoes have been common objects. It was natural to think about doing a piece with shoes as the metaphor. When I asked the women of Ciudad Juarez to donate red shoes, they quickly answered with 33 pairs of shoes. I installed those first shoes on Benito Juarez Street—which leads to the oldest border crossing bridge in town. The shoes began a silent, empty march representing the missing women.
The day before while scouting for an installation site downtown I witnessed an execution. It created a very strong impression, but I could not let it discourage me. The next morning, supported by my brother, we proceeded to install the shoes. In the beginning the street was almost empty, and while taking photographs it suddenly began to rain. It seemed that the sky was crying. I was forced to remove the shoes and wait out the rain, but it lasted less than twenty minutes. The clouds dissipated and the sun came out, allowing me to continue. The street began to fill with people who interacted with the shoes. It was very interesting to see what discussions those red shoes on the sidewalk generated. Slowly the shoes started to attract the media. This was the birth of the RED SHOES project.
JJ: WHAT COMES NEXT FOR THE RED SHOES?
EC: I WANT TO COLLECT AS MANY TYPES of red shoes as possible, each pair generating a reflection of society. I still have six months of hard work, and almost every day a woman dies in Juarez. My goal is to collect more shoes than the number of women killed since August 20, 2009. In 2010 alone, 306 women were killed, and 34 are still missing.
The authorities in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico do not seem to care about the pain that hundreds of families live with. They have aggravated the problem further by murdering activists who denounce the absence of justice and the impunity with which drug trafficking and slave trafficking networks operate. There are even complaints against the Mexican Army.
It’s time to create awareness and change our way of thinking, not just find short-term solutions. Eradicating violence may sound like a utopian dream, but it is not impossible. We need to imagine a better society for future generations. Women have the strength to accomplish a large part of the job.
This work is a difficult but exciting challenge. It has led me to many reflections as a person and as an artist. To approach others about the piece itself has not been easy. So far people from Ciudad Juarez have contributed the greatest number of shoes– a clear indication of lack of solidarity and interest in the subject. However I will continue to call upon the support of the people until the last moment.
JJ: WHAT HAPPENS IN SEPTEMBER?
EC: THE PROJECT WILL CULMINATE IN September 2011 in Juarez cotton fields. I hope to leave it there as testimony of an act of solidarity and love. However, due to the high rate of violence in Juarez, I may be forced to move the completed work somewhere else where there is less risk of repression or an attack on me or those who work with me.
JJ: HAVE THERE BEEN REPRECUSSIONS?
EC: IN OCTOBER 2010 IN CIUDAD JUAREZ I WAS invited to participate with a table of red shoes at a multinational meeting of artists. After being only twenty-four hours in the city I had my car stolen outside the venue. In my car were my computer, workbook, notes and other resources. I took this as a warning or punishment.
JJ: DEFINE YOUR ART AND TELL US ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND MATERIALS YOU USE.
EC: MY ART IS POLITICAL AND AIMED AT A BROAD sector of society. I really enjoy interacting with people in public spaces. The techniques I use are painting, ceramics, graphic, art object, installation, video, and photography. The materials chosen depend on the piece I am doing at that time. For me there’s no limit to what can be used to make an artwork, and non-traditional materials in contemporary works offer many creative possibilities.
JJ: WHAT ELSE ARE YOU WORKING ON?
EC: I AM CONCURRENTLY WORKING ON A PROJECT called Camelia la Tejana and the Monarch Dynasty for which I was awarded a grant from the Sinaloa State Fund for Culture and Arts, 2010-2011. Camelia la Tejana is the character in a Mexican Corrido from the 1970s. Corrido is a popular Mexican musical genre that tells stories based on true facts and fiction similar to old minstrels’ style. Camelia is a fictional woman drug smuggler. Over the years, as more women are active in drug trafficking cartels assuming different roles including leadership, she comes to life. If a leader gets killed some women of the family may take the lead, increasing the number of women in this business; they are called the queens of drug dealing.
This project is an anti-drug use campaign. I am painting eight portraits of fictional Sinaloan “drug queens” in mixed media on canvas. These paintings will be posted in the state of Sinaloa in a campaign to discourage young people to become involved in drug trafficking and drug use.
JJ: ANY OTHER ARTWORK BASED ON CORRIDOS?
EC: EARLY SPRING 2011 I CREATED AN exhibition called “LA NETA DE LAS NETAS,” in Culiacan (also a Sinaloa government award). It featured paintings, drawings and an installation based on corridos. My idea was to bring people that like this musical genre to a space they might not usually attend, like a museum or gallery, to open a discussion about shared issues.
What sparked my interest in corridos was how the lyrics spread national and international stories through all of the different social and cultural strata of Mexico. Within corridos there is sub-genre called narco-corrido responsible for disseminating the lives, exploits and misadventures of the drug dealers. But narco-corridos does not only glorify, as there are corridos that disapprove, to try to dissuade young people from the business. Yet the narco-corrido genre is censured by the government. It has even tried to ban it, making it more popular, to the extent that some bands have recorded albums of only prohibited corridos.
JJ: ANY LAST WORDS ON THE RED SHOES PROJECT?
EC: TO SPREAD WORD ABOUT THE PROJECT I talk about the project personally and publicly through workshops in universities, museums and galleries. I’ve done interviews on television, radio and in print media. Documentation of the work through photographs and some video will be used now and later to enrich this work. I am doing this work independently without any financial support. It’s been a limiting factor.
Red Shoes is intended to be international, but so far only people from Canada and U.S. have participated.
There is still time for people from all countries to participate by mailing me their collections of red shoes. Contact the project through the blog http://zapatosrojosjuarez.blogspot.com and on Facebook as Red Shoes.