More haunting than the field of dried Aztec flowers on the tiled floor of the Barrick Museum lobby is the audio creeping in from the auditorium behind it, the voice whispering over and over: “43 days. 43 names.” It’s somber and persistent, as bone-chilling as the brutality of the Mexican drug wars.
As part of an installation created by Las Vegas artist Javier Sanchez in solidarity with the 43 students who went missing September 26 in Mexico, looping video and audio form a multisensory experience augmented by the smell of the dried Xempatzuchitl flowers. “I just want it to keep looping over and over again,” Sanchez says. “Keep remembering. Keep looping. Don’t forget. There are so many horrible, horrific things going on.”
The artist, who was born and raised in the suburbs of Mexico City and moved to Las Vegas from San Francisco in 2001, began posting news of the 43 students on Facebook, including subsequent stories of protests and outrage. Seeing how the disappearance affected Sanchez, Aurore Giguet, curator and program director at the Barrick, approached him about a collaboration, to which he said yes. “I come from Mexico,” Sanchez says. “I see myself as one of the students. I have my Mexico roots. I feel like I needed to do something.”
He remembered news footage of the field of Xempatzuchitl flowers that the missing students would be preparing to harvest to sell for the upcoming Day of the Dead celebration, which helps fund their tuition at the poor rural teachers college.
The students were arrested by police while en route to a protest and reportedly turned over to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel under the order of the mayor. It’s suspected that they have been killed, which has sparked international protests and greater awareness of drug-war activities.
In wanting to create something symbolic, simple and powerful, Sanchez placed the crumbled, dried Xempatzuchitl flowers within a wood border and, in the center, set illuminated strips to represent the hope of the students’ families and the hope for change.
An auditorium video shows a finger writing numbers in a white pigment on mirrors reflecting the sky, switching the color to black when the number 43 is reached. A monitor in the lobby displays each student’s name, again a looping cycle. But it’s the flowers that tie it all together, as explained in the exhibit statement: “In Mexico every day is the day of the dead, and the day of the disappeared, and the day of the mutilated, and the day of the bereaved. Ayotzinapa and its unique convergence of events, actors, timing and place speak to this.”
The installation, which began on November 22, will culminate on January 5, lasting 43 days.
Forty-Three Days 43 Names Through January 5; Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (8 p.m. on Thursdays); Saturday, noon-5 p.m. UNLV’s Barrick Museum, 702-895-3381.