Aragon’s work turns images of bodies from drug-related violence into art. photo by Piper Prolago

Miguel Aragon exhibit highlights toll of drug violence

The Mexican artist’s exhibition tackles the impact of drug violence in his home town of Juarez.

The Alexandre Hogue Gallery will host an exhibition of works by Mexican artist Miguel A. Aragon. Aragon’s works explore the repercussions of violence resulting from the narcotics trade in his hometown of Juarez, Mexico. Although he studied in Texas, received his graduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin and works as an Assistant Professor in Printmaking at the College of Staten Island, Aragon continues to visit his family in Juarez frequently.

A city situated right by the border between Mexico and the United States, Juarez is particularly affected by the drug trade. The city and its people experienced an enormous spike in violence after Felipe Calderon, former president of Mexico, declared an official war on drugs. During this time, Aragon collected newspaper clippings with visceral images of the citizens killed in the war.

Aragon described being greatly affected by his town’s location on the border. His parents raised him and his brother to understand the languages and cultures of both countries. This has become an integral part of Aragon’s identity, describing himself as a “hybrid of both, but lacking parts of both,” feeling neither completely American nor completely Mexican.

Throughout his time in school, Aragon constantly wrestled with how best to deal with the topic of violence in his hometown through his art. While working toward his MFA, he found a laser engraver in the architecture department that he decided was the first medium he would use to capture this. He used the machine to engrave the images he had collected in newspapers onto cardboard and then cut out pieces by hand.

Taking inspiration from artists like Francisco de Goya and Otto Dix, Aragon explored these images in a way that embodied his experiences. These artists, Aragon described, were able to capture “how rough and how insensitive humans can actually be.”

Aragon’s own works reflect the inhumanity that is revealed through the violence in Juarez. He chose to manipulate the newspaper photos by stripping them down and making them more abstract to capture the qualities he admires in portfolios like Goya’s “Disasters of War.”

In the exhibition displayed in the Hogue Gallery, Aragon further explores his experiences in Juarez. Each piece was created with the same inspiration in mind: the idea that the violence that comes from the narcotics trade, and the consequent war on drugs is decimating an entire generation of people in the city. Aragon channeled this idea by drilling small holes that trace images of victims of the brutality.

Layering several sheets of paper, Aragon painstakingly uses a hand drill to create these portraits. Echoing the image of bullet holes, these figures are simultaneously created and destroyed by using this repeated technique. As he drills through several layers of black and white paper, several copies of each portrait are rendered. These various layers, Aragon explains, represent the layers of our bodies: white paper acts as the bones, for example.

Aragon uses the resulting layers to further investigate his themes. Some of the end products exhibited were created using drilled pages as stencils for copper paint. The use of copper tone enamel to create the silhouettes references an idiomatic expression in Mexico, “estas enseñando el cobre,” which literally translates to “you’re showing your copper.” The phrase is intended to mean that someone is showing their true colors. This reference begins to raise questions of identity in the figures depicted.

The concept of identity, though, is intentionally insignificant in these works. Although it is noted that the people in these pieces are victims of violence in Juarez, Aragon intentionally withholds how they are related to this violence. Rather than specifying whether these people are part of the cartel, a policeman or an innocent bystander. Instead, Aragon teaches viewers that “it isn’t our place to judge.”

Regardless of their role in this war, everyone is significant to someone. By keeping anonymity, Aragon is able to apply his art to a more people and situations. Rather than narrowing the theme of violence and destruction of humanity, Aragon says that “through the individual, we can talk about the universal.”

Vestigios de la Narcoviolencia is not only immediately emotive, but the background of each piece reveals layers of meaning. Understanding the process and intentions of the artist allows viewers to connect with the images beyond the aesthetics.The depth of thought enacted through the process of creation makes this exhibition simultaneously subtle and profound.

Post Author: Piper Prolago