Tamsyn Challenger: 400 Women
Stunning artistic memorial to victims of gender violence
This article is from 2011.
What unites the collection of heterogeneous portraits in 400 Women is the fate of each subject depicted. All are the victims of rape, abduction and murder, devastating crimes which have taken place on the Mexican border region of Ciudad Juàrez.
In direct opposition to the passive acknowledgement of these crimes by the region’s authorities, who consistently issue a generic statistic of 400 deaths-per-year to ‘record’ this gender persecution, Tamsyn Challenger’s intervention on Canongate is sensitively constructed, taking each of the women into account.
The project atomises the government’s anonymous approach. Through collaboration with Amnesty International, the victim’s families and the 175 artists Challenger has so far commissioned to produce an artistic memorial in their honour, she manages to reinstate the women’s formerly lost individual identity. The subsequent portraits are then installed alongside one another, this time in a collective that symbolises resistance and strength.
Every woman has gained a voice in this project and her image is transformed.
The postcards desperately thrust into Challenger’s hands by the victim’s families are the starting point for painterly works influenced by the art-historical canon and carefully constructed according to each woman’s story.
Canongate Venture, the deteriorating school that they are currently grouped within, instils further poignant, symbolic layers. Paint crumbles from the walls, ceilings have fallen in and dirt is scattered over the carpet. The damage highlights and emphasises the destructive violence endured by the women that peer out from the walls.
The works are not hung to correlate with the order in the accompanying pamphlet so viewing the exhibition becomes a search for the missing once again. Yet, unlike in reality, when they are eventually found the viewer is confronted with a message of hope. For what is encountered is the memory of a woman who shall no longer be forgotten. To be aware of these past crimes is to move closer to their future end.
Canongate Venture, 07870 935442, until 4 Sep (not Mon), free.