A global mass collaboration, protesting continuing murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Approximately 7900 hand embroidered nametags (by June 2016). Each 2 x 8 cm, stitched by 4800 individuals in about 500 globally arranged workshops
Desconocida Unknown Ukjent is an international art project utilizing a mass collaboration, stitching nametags to protest the continuing murder of women in Ciudad Juaréz, Mexico and in remembrance of similar crimes worldwide.
Since 1993, more than 1500 women have been brutally murdered, and hundreds disappeared in Ciudad Juaréz. Explanations for the murders range from the use of women as prizes for drug cartels, domestic violence, and so-called sexual violence tourism. Many of the victims worked in the numerous sweat shops in Juaréz and the name tags inside their dust coats were often used to identify the decomposed bodies. The Mexican Government has done nothing that has improved the situation, solved cases or prevented new from happening.
I heard about the situation in Ciudad Juaréz for the first time in 2000 when I was living in Houston, Texas. At the end of 2005, the Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston, a museum that is dedicated to a political and social agenda, invited me to create a work dedicated to the women in Juarez, for the exhibition, Frontera 450.
At the time, I was again living in Norway and my immediate thought was to use the physical distance as a starting point for my contribution. I wanted to find a way to spread awareness about the horror happening in Ciudad Juaréz, and simultaneously enable a feeling of connection. In essence, abuse and murder of women are about us. It is something that has happened and continues to happen in every global society.
Each participant in Desconocida Unknown Ukjent, embroiders two name tags; one carries the name of a murdered woman in Ciudad Juarez, the other the word Unknown in the participants own language and alphabet, memorizing victims of similar crimes globally. The project is democratic as it is open for all to participate. The essence is the time each participant gives.
We all have a relationship with names – our name is the first thing we learn to write. To stitch the murdered woman’s name on a small piece of cloth is a physical act, time consuming, repetitious; an intimate experience. It is an act of care, in remembrance and of protest. The embroiderer brings back an identity to each name, through the trace of handwriting, stitches, and colors. The protest is brought forward through the format of workshops; historically, sewing-circles have played an important role in feminism and the fight for equal rights. (1)
Information about the current situation in Juarèz is shared through film and online connection to blogs, websites, and radio-stations in Juarez. The discussion often also brings local issues forward. Participants can protest directly to the Mexican President or the Governor in Chihuahua by sending them an Action Card (Protest card) available through the workshops.
By June 2016, 4800 people spread out on approximately 500 global groups have embroidered close to 7900 labels. The workshops have been arranged in private homes, universities, and schools. It has reached people in countries like the US, (Texas, Philadelphia, New Mexico, Atlanta, Florida, Alaska), Australia, Philippines, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, France, UK, Israel, on Palestinian territory, in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Poland and in all corners of Norway. In Ciudad Juarez, victim´s mothers have embroidered. Summer 2013 a young student from Nepal, studying in UK, brought the project with her home to Nepal on her holiday break. For two years I adapted the project to work with youth in a Norwegian Governmental school program (Den kulturelle skolesekken). Students embroidered and exhibited the labels at their schools before sending the labels back to me to be included in the project´s further travel.
Desconocida Unknown Ukjent has been exhibited widely. It is never shown without inviting the local community to participate embroidering labels and helping to install the work. The installation is site specific. The preferable format is a freestanding pink wall where the nametags are installed one and one, each held by a single sewing pin. The pink color is the same as the women in Ciudad Juaréz have chosen as their color of protest. The names are installed on the wall in Morse code, spelling the lyrics of the American and Mexican anthem interwoven. The mass of names installed in this rigid manner, almost obsessional in terms of handling, is chosen to connect back to the situation itself. The continuing murders of the young women in Juarez are not coincidental. They are highly planned and systematically carried out. The same system protects the violators. When close to the installation the thousands of hands creating the labels become visual, bringing the individual voices forward. Due to the high number of labels and the traces of all the different languages the wall reminds us that abuse and murder of women is a global issue.
Desconocida Unknwon Ukjent continues to expand, sadly because new victims arrive each day on the list of murdered women in Ciudad Juaréz. The project will last as long as the situation there remains unchanged. The duration functions as a continuous remembrance and points to our reality of abuse and murder, something we cannot escape but have to continuously fight.
Lise Bjorne Linnert
Notes: 1 Louise Walden “Textilen text” in: Tyg Overallt, Nordiska museet och Skansens Årsbok, Stockholm, 2002