The Mexican marigold, or cempasuchitl, has long been known as the patron flower of the dead. Its sunny, fragrant blooms open in October and are placed on tombs as offerings for Día de los Muertos. This year, the tradition was tinged by a national tragedy, as harvesting and selling the flowers was one way the 43 students who attended the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa put themselves through school.
Like many, Nevada-based artist Javier Sanchez was shaken by the young men’s disappearance and state-sanctioned murder. As news reports revealed the students’ arrest by police and brutal execution at the hands of a gang, protests erupted around the world. Sanchez funneled his own outrage into a memorial installation that is currently on view at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s Barrick Museum. “Forty-Three Days, 43 Names“ opened November 22 and will run for exactly 43 days. “I see myself as one of the students,” the Mexico City native told Las Vegas Weekly. “I have my Mexico roots. I feel like I needed to do something.”
The memorial centers around dried cempasuchitl flowers. Their crumpled bodies carpet the ground within a wooden frame, emitting all the mournfulness of Anselm Kiefer’s “Aschenblume” (1983–97). Two illuminated wooden strips glow at the box’s center. They look similar to the equal signs taken up by the Human Rights Campaign, but rather than equality, they symbolize hope — the families’ hope, the hope for change. This floor installation is complemented by two chilling videos on nearby walls. One lists the students’ names. In the other, a finger dipped in white paint writes numbers on a mirror that reflects the blue sky, switching to black when it reaches 43.
As the news cycle moves on and the students’ murder is discussed less and less, the installation advances a quiet, more reflective offering of lamentation for the dead. Not only does it remind us of their loss, but also of all those who continue succumbing to their country’s endemic violence. As Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo poignantly wrote in Slate, “The violence in Mexico cannot tell you that in Mexico every day is the day of the dead, and the day of the disappeared, and the day of the mutilated, and the day of the bereaved.”
“Forty-Three Days, 43 Names“ is on view at the UNLV Barrick Museum (University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S Maryland Pkwy, Las Vegas) through January 5, 2015.