Maria Ezcurra’s collective-action installation Pinned Down (or how to keep hiding thousands of needles in a haystack) commemorates the lives of 43 student activists from the Ayotzinapa Teacher's College in southern Mexico. One year ago, on September 26th 2014, the students were traveling by bus to Iguala, Guerrero, to protest a conference held by the mayor’s wife. During their journey they were kidnapped, killed and burned, with their remains thrown into the San Juan river. This event caused an international uproar and sparked several large protests in Mexico City and in the Guerrero region. Ezcurra wanted to create an in-situ installation that invites the public to reflect upon the loss of these students and the lives of numerous other people who have been made casualties of the ongoing Mexican “War on Drugs” and other violent repressions that have become widespread across Latin America over the last decade.
For this participatory installation, members of the general public will enter the gallery space and view 100,000 pins resting upon a raised metal platform cut into the shape of Mexico. Participants are encouraged to choose a pin from the “haystack” and to receive a black ribbon from the artist who will then pin it onto their clothing. The act of pinning the ribbon onto the visitor’s garments is one of reclamation and recognition: it solidifies the refusal of survivors and organizers to forget the lives of the deceased and the potency of their struggles. This process allows for a symbolic restoration of the victims’ corporeality, internalized by the participant-as-witness who bears the marker of a once-tangible life.
One pin and ribbon represents one person – someone who remains relatively unidentifiable to those who will engage with Pinned Down. The decision to present 100,000 pins was not a completely arbitrary choice made by the artist. Media and NGO estimates have asserted that this is much closer to a reality that we start to pin down. The number 100,000 is a place-holder, it serves as a reminder that we cannot fathom the real effects of violence and the enormous scale of loss that this number suggests. There is no truth to find in the media: the numbers of the anonymous dead clash significantly between official and unofficial versions in Mexico. What happens when the numbers are so large and the identities of the deceased so vastly unknown that the death toll becomes abstract? What part of our own humanity is being lost?
Ezcurra seeks to engage the public to hold an open discussion and reflection on the rising count of the dead and to raise awareness of their social and political struggles. Her project opposes the dehumanization of such large numbers of the murdered and missing by personalizing the abstract through a subtle, yet powerful form of rehumanization. It makes visible the necessary imperative for us all to act as global citizens and to stand in solidarity against the social, economic and political injustices that have happened–and continue to happen–in Mexico, Latin America, and elsewhere. Pinned Down allows us to have a symbolic exchange to illuminate our different perspectives and experiences in order to find a common ground and create links of solidarity across borders. The memories of the dead, on this day, will not be forgotten.
by Megan Mericle