“Mexicali, the capital of Baja California state, is not unique among border cities. All along the United States-Mexico border, women and girls are going missing”.
“Femicides are a pandemic in Mexico,” asserts Ana Güezmes, the local representative of United Nations Women, the agency devoted to gender issues.
The word “feminicidio” first entered the vernacular in the 1990s, with explosive rates of disappearances and murders of women in the border town of Ciudad Juárez. In fact, more women have been killed in the state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital city of the same name. The number doubled from 2005 to 2011, when the current national president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was governor of the state. Today he has pledged to combat drug violence overall but has not spoken out against femicides.
Impunity is the main motor of the gender crime, Güezmes says, as well as social norms that allow the violence to be ignored or accepted as a normal part of life. She describes femicides as the extreme end of a society where 63 percent of women have suffered abuse by male hands. She estimates that maybe a third or half of the cases involved sexual partners. The balance — abductions, rapes and discarding the bodies like garbage — are probably linked to the generalized drug violence that is tearing Mexico apart.
Güezmes says the government needs to put more effort toward prevention, and improve access to justice. “These are the biggest problems.”
The woman’s body appeared in the middle of March.
She had been left next to a sewage canal in Mexicali, a Mexican city that borders the dry and dusty Imperial Valley in California. There was a bag over her head, her hands and feet tied with duct tape. She was the eighth woman to have been killed in the city since the beginning of 2015 – as of June, 12 have been murdered. Still more have vanished without a trace.
Mexicali, the capital of Baja California state, is not unique among border cities. All along the United States-Mexico border, women and girls are going missing. They are often of indigenous descent, brought north from impoverished rural areas by the lure of better economic prospects and the possibility of crossing into the U.S. There is also a strong element of structural racism that contributes to the apathy of Mexican authorities when indigenous women disappear, critics say.
Sometimes they aren’t found, but other times their bodies turn up in the desert, desiccated by the heat, or dumped in trash heaps, or left under bushes. The murders of women have reached such epidemic proportions in the past two decades that a new term has entered Mexico’s lexicon: femicidio, or femicide. The Mexican government claims a massive backlog on missing and murdered women cases means many deaths remain unsolved.
They began showing up in 2006, usually left among piles of garbage. Some were victims of domestic violence, others of drug gangs that have seized control of entire neighborhoods in the gritty town of Ecatepec, northeast of the capital.
The lot has since been cleared and declared an ecological reserve. But its grisly past is not forgotten and the killings have only accelerated.
Dulce Cristina Payan, 17, was one of the victims. Two years ago, armed men pulled up in a pickup truck and dragged her and her boyfriend away from the porch of her home. He was tossed from the truck within a few blocks but she was taken away and murdered, stabbed repeatedly in the face and stomach.
Her father, Pedro Payan, believes the killers belonged to La Familia, a violent drug gang operating in Ecatepec, and that Dulce Cristina was murdered when she resisted rape.
“I think my daughter defended herself, because her nails were broken, and her knuckles were scraped,” sobbed Payan, a former police officer who now sells pirated DVDs from his home to get by. “She had a strong character”.
“Signs that Mexican producers are turning out white-powder heroin, as well as reports that Mexican traffickers have been gaining sway on the East Coast, indicate that Mexican cartels are making a concerted effort to increase their control over the US heroin market”.
As drug violence has escalated across Mexico in the past seven years, the rule of law has collapsed in some of the toughest cities and neighborhoods. When that happens, local gangs take control, imposing their will on residents and feeding a culture of extreme violence.
The heroin market in the United States has been historically divided along the Mississippi River, with western markets using Mexican black tar and brown powder heroin, and eastern markets using white powder (previously Southeast and Southwest Asian, but between 1997 and 2010 almost exclusively South American) heroin,” the DEA noted in its 2016 Heroin Threat Assessment, released this summer.
Signs that Mexican producers are turning out white-powder heroin, as well as reports that Mexican traffickers have been gaining sway on East Coast, indicate that Mexican cartels are making a concerted effort to increase their control over the US heroin market.
The red and white poppies are relatively easy to take care of and can produce three harvests a year. This involves scratching the unripe seed pods to release the milky resin that will turn into opium gum after drying out in juice cans.
Though Memo says army eradication operations have intensified in recent years, he can normally rely on getting a kilo of paste out of his poppies. This is worth around 15,000 pesos, about $870. It takes about 15 kilos of gum to make a kilo of heroin that sells for between $25,000 and $70,000 in the US.
It adds up to a yearly income of about 45,000 pesos, currently around $2,600. This is not even twice Mexico’s paltry minimum wage that has long been derided as one of the lowest in the world.
The death was part of a rash of overdoses, 12 of them fatal, that shook Huntington that fall and winter. All were caused by black-tar heroin, a potent, inexpensive, semi-processed form of the drug that has spread across the United States, driven by the entrepreneurial energy and marketing savvy of immigrants from a tiny farming county in Mexico.
Immigrants from Xalisco, in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit, Mexico, have brought the heroin north over the last decade, and with it a highly effective business model featuring deep discounts and convenient delivery by car. Their success is a major reason why Mexican black tar has seized a growing share of the U.S. heroin market, according to government estimates.
Xalisco networks are decentralized, with no all-powerful boss, and they largely avoid guns and violence. Staying clear of the nation’s largest cities, where established organizations control the heroin trade, Xalisco dealers have cultivated markets in the mountain states and parts of the Midwest and Appalachia, often creating demand for heroin in cities and towns where there had been little or none. In many of those places, authorities report a sharp rise in heroin overdoses and deaths.
“Brave would be to incorporate some sort of honesty in your work and perhaps think through a few of the fucking issues that you use to burnish the “aura”, “myth” or “image” of yourself. You are a fake, a charlatan and worst of all is that you are privileged in doing so, marginalizing and using the less fortunate in your stupid regurgitation of Grand Guignol theater, which actually has real world consequence.”
A codex is for all intents and purposes considered to be a tool for the distribution of language in pictographic form, often in a book or in stone and is historically known mostly as it relates to the three codices that were found from the Mayan culture. They have been incredibly difficult to translate, decipher or “crack”. The Mayan codices for example have up to 15 different pictographs for explaining one action, person or object. The language itself is distributed in pictographs or hieroglyphic images and so perhaps we could postulate that photographs are also a contemporary form of pictograph in which meaning and its relative display are simply more vast than can be held accountable in a single code, but that do indeed exist in categories and which are able to have some meaning attributed to them en masse and in repetition. I would personally dispute this, but think that an argument can be made thus limiting my dismissal.
Antoine D’Agata’s “Codex: Mexico 1986-2016” published by Editorial RM is a beautiful book. The production, the edit and the covers in particular would be highly commendable if the pictographs inside were not manufactured by an emotionally and psychologically impoverished miscreant. It’s strange with RM. Half the time I think they produce the best photobooks on the market and the other half of the time, I think they produce the more problematic in terms of discourse. I guess this means that in some Sense, the production is successful in waging dialogue.
Antoine D’Agata has made a whole career built on nihilism and self-indulgent diaristic image-making. I have to admit, I bought into his depravity (I have to be careful here as it’s a term he probably gets excited by) when I first encountered it. I could see the obvious and now fucking redundant use of Francis Bacon’s color, space and motion. I bought into the idea that universal order is unnecessary and that the only language in photography is the solipsistic and individualistic form. I railed against the idea that photography is a language and I still do. However, I have come to some reluctant agreement that images have what could be called a “weight” even if they need deciphering and agreement to function. These images when distributed in the categories of violence, sexuality, bondage (not that one) and hate do have an effect, even if unintended. The theater of Antoine’s life cannot thus be divided from the real life of others so easily, which questions why its distribution should or should not have an affect as it does.
Given that D’Agata’s performance within his work has much to do with the examination of drugs and sex in the theater of the human grotesque, I struggle to find answers why anyone gives a fuck and why his work is valorized. The work is about Antoine and yet he needs for the completion of his bruised ego or the fallacy of his “artistic genius” to distribute his po’ boy tortured soul nonsense to the world in broadcast and marketable form, thus limiting my belief in its nihilistic sincerity. And finally he has ham-handedly managed to imply that Mayan blood libel and the language of the pictograph, the codex of Mexico and South America share any sort of communion with his theater. And to be certain, there is a picture of the famous “donkey show” in this book. How fucking ignoble do you have to be to track down the worst stereotype of a whole culture and put it in a book under the name “Mexico: Codex”? I do wonder what Editorial RM label mate Laia Abril makes of sharing a publisher with this sort of misogynistic trash.
Further, he works with one of the premier photographic agencies in the world? They, along with museums and publishers valorize his poor lament of human frailty. I’ve done lots of drugs, had a bunch of sex, never have I had any urge to display either or the people that I have done them with in any sort of existential horse shit egocentric diorama for the picture desk. Perhaps that is because I see the limit of this sort of communication for what it is-a stage. Its fake news. Its all dressed up in extremes to titillate quickly, get a quick fix of adulation or “how hardcore” egoism only to pander more horse shit out into the dying world without any value of commentary instead simply aiding in the unfolding of it all, while trying so desperately to be held in some sort of “brave” light. Give me a fucking break. Brave would be to incorporate some sort of honesty in your work and perhaps think through a few of the fucking issues that you use to burnish the “aura”, “myth” or “image” of yourself. You are a fake and a charlatan and worst of all is that you are privileged in doing so, marginalizing and using the less fortunate in your stupid regurgitation of Grand Guignol theater, which actually has real world consequence. Its not enough anymore that you are given license to do this as your argument for continuation. The text in the book is also set as a film script, and poorly treated I might add. This is the fantasy in which we must embrace Antoine’s world, not as reality, but as a poor (hard to imagine) set of stills to an even worse Gasper Noe film. He can fuck off while I’m at it as well.
d’Agata even takes a shot at the animal kingdom and the kingdom of the dead and the Kingdom of those living on the edges, the easily exploitable. I would go so far as to suggest that any further valorization of this work by museums, photographic agencies and academies is in effect as blame-worthy as he is. I am no social justice warrior, nor am I part of the thought police brigade. I am however lamentably human with some minor ability to understand the qualities of action, intent and the cyclical regurgitation of violence for the purpose of personal gain.
My only hope with Mr. d’Agata is that people use his work as something to digress against. There is no giant upheaval of dark territory here that doesn’t exist in real time as I watch Gaza unfold with a move of an ignoble embassy. There is no compensation for the photographer who injects the most heroin or screws the most women before the camera as I read about femicide and the Jalisco boy black tar heroin trade killing off opioid addicts in my home country. There is only the obvious tirade of a child grown older exploiting other people, notably women or economically impoverished criminal types for his own supposedly tortured soul or lack thereof.
I abhor having to wade through this with you, Mr. d’Agata, I have been kind enough to give you some reading material for the summer. Perhaps you can tie a few loose ends together in your sober moments and stop pretending that this is social commentary over personal fantasy with consequence.
(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Antoine D’Agata.)