An alternate look at violence against women

Miradas Alternas, an exhibition running at the Polygon gallery until Feb. 7, explores alternative approaches to the photographic representation of violence against women in contemporary Mexico. Curated by Andrea Sánchez Ibarrola, the exhibition showcases the work of five Mexican artists: Juliana Alvarado, Alejandra Aragón, Koral Carballo, Mariceu Erthal and Sonia Madrigal.

Sonia Madrigal, from the series Death Rises in the East, ongoing since 2014, inkjet print2. | Photo by Sonia Madrigal

Ibarrola immigrated to Vancouver from Mexico in 2018 to attend UBC. The project was born as a cultural studies master’s degree program assignment; in order to graduate, she had to develop both a research paper and an exhibition project. “I was interested in working with photography, because it is a medium I relate to personally,” she says. “And I wanted to speak about where I was coming from.”

Rejecting violence

Ibarrola decided to gather the work of five female Mexican photographers with arts, journalism and documentary backgrounds. “I was interested in their work because they use different approaches to photography in order to tell stories about violence in a way that doesn’t reinforce violence, and doesn’t retraumatize through imagery,” she explains.

According to Ibarrola, there is an oversaturation of visual, textural, and verbal images around violence in his native country that has only grown over the past twenty years. The goal of the exhibition is to give visitors an alternative way of looking at violence in Mexico.

“The entire project came from my concerned response to this kind of visuality and wanting an alternative,” she says. “I used this project as an opportunity to think about the role of images in violence and in particular the war on drugs.”

A female perspective

Once the project was underway, Ibarolla decided to add a gender perspective to this dynamic of violence. She explains that femicide in Mexico has been growing to the point that almost 11 women are killed in the country every day.

Mericeu Erthal, from Letters to Gemma series, 2017–2020, inkjet print3.| Photo by Mericeu Erthal

“Because photography has traditionally been a male-dominant area, I thought it was also important to make a statement by acknowledging the work that women photographers are doing, because I do think they are doubly exposed,” she adds.

Ibarrola had a wealth of artists to choose from when she started doing research for this project. The five artists she finally decided on where those she felt most captured the concept she was hoping to exhibit.

“I was thinking about the representation of violence from the perspective of two dichotomies: presence and absence, and visibility and invisibility,” she explains. “Some artists are addressing the evident and very visible problem of femicide, and then some address the very invisible aspect of violence.”

Finding commonalities

Ibarrola hopes that those who go to see the exhibition walk away from it with a bit more awareness and empathy, and realize that femicide is not a unique problem
to Mexico.

“I don’t want this show to say, ‘oh poor Mexican women,’ that is not what I want,” she claims. Instead, her aim is to raise empathy and awareness, and especially to think about violence where we are.

“After coming to Vancouver, I started to feel I was so safe and that there were no dangers here,” remembers Ibarrola. “Then, I became aware of the situation in Canada about the missing and murdered indigenous women and how femicide is not only a problem in Mexico or in Latin America, but everywhere in the world.”

For more information, visit