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Writing About The Project

By: Natali Bravo-Barbee

In January 2019, an Argentine news article detailed a woman's murder at the hands of her male partner. The article noted an increase in violence against women in Argentina and it shared the victim's photograph. The image of this woman haunted me: the Flores de Femicidio project was born. 
 
I reached out to my friend to discuss the article. Following, she invited me to a private facebook group led by another psychologist who studies femicides and violence against women in Argentina. I learned more than I wanted. Almost daily, articles reported the alarming increase in femicides to one woman being murdered every 22-27 hours, ranging from 2 years old the youngest victim to 75 years of age. 
 
U.S. media outlets haven’t adopted the term femicide to describe gender based crimes against women. If they did, it would become apparent how problematic these societal issues are in all communities. The term femicide was first used in England as far back as 1801 to describe the killing of a woman by a man. It faded in and out of use throughout the years. In more recent times, Dr. Diana Russell popularized the term again since hearing it from a friend in 1974. She used the term often in her papers and speeches that highlighted violence against women using the word femicide. 
 
The project Flores de Femicidio / Femicide florals is a monument to the memory of all the women murdered in Argentina via femicide in all of 2019. The numbers vary from publication to publication, some discounting transgender women or little girls, who are included in Flores de Femicidio. The number 327 maybe difficult for some to imagine. Each cyanotype flower represents one woman or girl. When standing among all these flowers, the overwhelming numbers, each associated with a life, a person, a woman, confronts the viewer, laying bare that femicide is a problem, a real problem that could happen to anyone of us. 
 
A real problem that happened to me. I was born in Córdoba, Argentina and migrated north in the 1980s. My childhood home had its own share of domestic violence. I am also a domestic violence survivor. Survivorship came through help from family, friends and law enforcement when I tried to escape an abusive relationship. I am lucky to be alive to tell my story. I must be a voice for those women who aren't here to tell their own stories.
 
Many women memorialized in this project once reached out for help to the local law enforcement in Argentina, but their cries fell on deaf ears. Worldwide, 80% of femicides happen in Latin American countries. Even though many countries have “harsh” punishments for men that murder women, often times, they go unpunished. Meanwhile, the women are reduced to bodies and names, sometimes just bodies. The name tags symbolize body tags. The words “No Nombre” are instances where the media omitted names or the body couldn't be identified (and the case would go unsolved). I still wanted those women honored and counted in this installation, in contrast to media coverage. 
 
In the beginning of 2019, femicides were widely being reported through media outlets in Argentina. As the year progressed, the attention to murders of women faded and information became more scarce. A few publications dedicated to women's issues continued to report, and in 2020, printed a mass obituary that included some victims from 2019 and 2020. They printed a second version of that obituary for 2020-2021. At times, I would find the entire story of a certain woman, including photos from her social media and statements made to the media by her family. Other times, the only available information was a first name and an initial for the last name, which is more than the “No Nombre” victims. 
 
While researching, I also started creating the flowers. The prototype flower (the A/P Artist Proof) was ready in January 2019. I worked February, March and April making the flowers for the January victims. 
 
My work for the previous 5 years had been focused on using the alternative-photographic process called cyanotype. This process was invented in 1842 by Sir John Herschel in England. It uses UV light to expose the image onto the sensitized paper and once developed, the blue image becomes visible. In 1843, botanist Anna Atkins learned the process from Herschel. She made the first photo-book in history using the cyanotype process to make photograms of British algae. She hand coated, exposed each print under the sun and made hand-bound books. For over a century, her contributions to the history of photography went unrecognized. It wasn't until the 1970s that she gained notoriety and became an important figure in the early history of photography. 
 
The same process created the flowers. The petals were hand-drawn on sheets of 22x30 inch watercolor paper, cut out, sorted into bags, each petal was hand-coated with cyanotype emulsion, exposed using my UV exposure unit, developed in my kitchen sink, shaped, dried, and assembled. The shadows captured on each petal were from various plants and laces. Some flowers came from my own garden located here in Queens, others I bought from markets. Floral lace has been a symbol of femininity that I use regularly in my cyanotypes and it felt natural to include in this project. Each cyanotype flower took a minimum of 10 hours to make.
 
Each flower consists of between 8-35 petals. All flowers are unique. Though some might appear similar there are differences. Each time the dried flowers were pressed against the paper to expose the cyanotypes, they crumbled and were no longer useable. Each flower is as unique as the woman it represents. From each flower hangs a blue and white striped string similar to the old air mail envelopes used in Argentina. This string symbolizes my ties to these women in Argentina though I am in New York. On the other end of the string is a tag. The tag represents a body tag that identifies each victim. 
 
During the two and a half years that I have worked on this project, I have given birth to one child and currently am pregnant with my second one. Physical and hormonal changes required me to seek out assistance in order to complete this project. I have employed the help from three assistants throughout this project: 2 petal cutters and a spare set of hands coating the petals and assembling the flowers. I owe a great deal of gratitude for their help and also to QCA for the New Works grant that allowed me to hire these assistants during quarantine to overcome the enormity of this project.
 
Finally, for the first time since this project has been completed, it is installed and shown in its entirety at York College Fine Arts Gallery. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Margaret Rose Vendryes, Nicholas Fraser and York College for giving me a platform to show this body of work and allowing us a safe space to hold a conversation about violence against women. 
 
 
 
 
Resources for Help
 
 
New York State Domestic Violence Hotlines
Your local hotline can provide you with information on domestic violence resources in your community. For the hotline number of your local domestic violence program, call the New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906, English & español/Multi-language Accessibility. Deaf or Hard of Hearing: 711
In NYC: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673) or dial 311 TDD: 1-800-810-7444
 
Online Resources for Domestic Violence
https://www.safehorizon.org
https://www.connectnyc.org
https://www.weallreallymatter.org