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The names of femicide victims, painted on the Plaza del Zócalo, Mexico City (photo by Santiago Arau)

MEXICO CITY — Last Sunday at 8am, 10 members of the activist art collective, Colectiva SJF, met in Mexico City’s central plaza, el Zócalo, and started painting the ground. In huge white letters, they named victims of femicide in Mexico from the past four years. Over the course of the next six hours, over 200 other women would join them in painting about 250 names, “which was as many as we had time to paint before the march,” Martha Muñoz Aristizabal, a member of the collective, told Hyperallergic. The anti-femicide march for International Women’s Day, from the Monumento de la Revolución to the Zocalo drew, according to different estimates, between 80,000 and 150,000 people. 

“We were sick of seeing the femicide problem through statistics. We wanted to humanize these women. When they die, they leave an imprint on all of us and we wanted to visualize that imprint for everyone, to create a collective memory,” Muñoz explained. “It is a necessity of social protest to occupy public spaces and resignify them. But the most beautiful part was that the process was a collective action. That also left its own mark on us.”

The march came and went through the enormous plaza. Monday was a national women’s strike, also against femicide. And while women all over the country stayed home and off social media, the names were scrubbed, somewhere around 24 hours after they were painted. 

The names were scrubbed the next day, during a national women’s strike in Mexico (photo by Santiago Arau)

“We weren’t surprised. We knew they would do this. That’s why we made sure to document our work. But still, we were surprised that it happened this fast,” said Muñoz. 

In 2019, 10 women were murdered every day in Mexico, according to government statistics. According to El Economista, if you compare femicide from 2015 and 2019, there was a 136.1% increase. This year shows no sign of slowing. 

President López Obrador has been largely dismissive of the problem, saying it’s being manipulated in the media, and insisting recent protests were tools of right-wing political groups that wanted to hurt his administration. Critics point out that not only has he not addressed the femicide issue head on, but he cut funding earlier this year for services that helped women like daycare, an equal education initiative, and an anti-gender discrimination employment program. On Sunday, two presidential effigies were burned at the Zócalo protest. On Tuesday, he stated that he would not change his administration’s approach to femicide. 

(photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

And it’s not only the president dismissing the problem. Over the last few months of protests against femicide and rape, a large part of the public response, both in the press and on social media, has been indignation over the graffiti left on national monuments. More indignation, it stingingly seems to many protestors, than that which the public generally shows about femicide. One woman, painted gold head-to-toe, held a sign on Sunday that read “I’m a monument, now do you care about me?” 

The artist Javier Marín, whose sculpture “Father Democracy” sits permanently in front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes and was heavily graffitied during the march, posted on his Instagram, “Great! This is why it was installed without a pedestal, to be part of the demonstrations and social protests. I hope it stays like this as a testament to the protest.”

If the names in the Zócalo are any indicator, it probably won’t stay long. “The way the names were erased was symbolic,” said Muñoz. “In Mexico it works like that. They paint over everything in a matter of hours.” 

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Zoe Mendelson

Zoe is a journalist and troublemaker campaigning for a more chiller world. She writes about cities, emojis, maps, mushrooms, data, and other semi-related topics. Her writing has appeared in Next City,...