The National Museum of Mexican Art's 37th annual exhibit titled Día de Muertos, Living Presence is now open. These are a few photos of the large floral installation curated by Dolores Mercado, associate curator, which memorializes women around the world who were "violated, disappeared or murdered".
I am pleased to be one of 18 artists participating in the creation of this installation. We were each given a composite board flower measuring 30" x 30" and asked to create a piece regarding a group of women or an individual woman who was a victim of gender-based violence. My piece titled She Was Banaz, was created in memory of Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman, who lived in South London, England prior to her murder. She was a victim of an honor killing that her father and uncle planned and her three cousins carried out; all were later convicted of her murder as a result of the testimony of Bekahl Mahmod, Banaz's older sister. For those of you who are not familiar with her story, I encourage you to watch the 2013 Emmy and Peabody Award winning film Banaz: A Love Story.
As I painted the flower, I wrote a poem that is an integral part of the piece. It was inspired by Banaz’s story from articles I read and interviews I watched in Banaz: A Love Story. The poem retells her story as if Banaz were speaking to her older sister, Bekahl. The words used to describe Banaz's husband, father, uncle and cousins are not Banaz’s—she was a gentle spirit who, in the film, did not express herself harshly. I employed excerpts that were vocalized in the film, i.e., Banaz stated about her husband, “It was like I was his shoe and he would wear it just whenever he felt like it”. I also utilized "discharged my soul" because one of her cousins complained, "...the bitch's soul was not getting discharged...". And finally, I titled the poem "Orange and Yellow" because in an interview from the film, her sister, Bekhal, said about Banaz, “If she was in my life, my life would be orange and yellow”.
In my flower, Banaz is the pistil—the central female organ of a flower and she is depicted in a fetal position as she was found in the suitcase in which she was buried. The pistil is orange and yellow because of what Bekahl said her life would be like if Banaz were in it.
Orange and Yellow
If only I could have colored your life
orange and yellow, sweet sister.
But some disregarded my desperate pleas;
others fueled their fierce ire and
compelled our cousins to “discharge my soul”--
the price I paid for parting ways
from a contemptuous cretin
who controlled me with a fist and phallus.
To him, I was not a winsome wife,
but a shoe to wear when he wanted.
And so, I ran for refuge--
to the two who divined me, yet wanted me dead.
Their honor, more valuable than valor and I.
Thus, the unimaginable unfolded.
Our father and uncle demanded my demise.
Our cowardly cousins complied,
but with an added touch of torture--
they raped and garroted me.
When they finished their demonic deed,
they dumped my vacant vessel in a suitcase,
and buried it in our backyard.
Now, I sleep as soundly as a floating fetus
in a warm womb of orange and yellow
and dream of you, dear sister.
I dream of what could have been and
of a love that should have been.
And if I could borrow the wind to whisper in your ear,
I would softly say, thank you, sweet sister,
for seeking justice for me.
But now, it is time to release the rage and rancor
and make your life orange and yellow.
This is one of Chicago's most popular exhibits and truly a wonderful cultural experience. As always, there are ofrendas as well as a variety of visual art pertaining to Day of the Dead. The following pictures are of a few pieces in the exhibit. I have also included 2 beautiful murals that are painted at the entrance and the exit of the exhibit. You will note that the Xoloitzcuintli dog, painted at the exit, played a role in Pre-Columbian life. Besides being a companion to the Aztec and Maya, this dog was also a healer and most important, a guide to the Underworld. Día de Muertos, Living Presence will be on exhibit through December 10, 2023.
National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W 19th Street Chicago, IL 60608.
Also, don't forget to enjoy the murals in Pilsen. These are across from the museum, but there are so many others throughout this community.