Antony Penrose, Lise Bjorne Linnert and David Flores of Colectivo Rezizte

We have been honoured and moved by the connection which Antony Penrose has made with us.  Antony’s father, Roland Penrose was instrumental in bringing Picasso and Guernica to the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1938, and his mother, Lee Miller, chronicled in words and pictures the devastation wrought by fascism in France, in Germany and upon the dead in Dachau, whose victims she photographed. After the trauma of war, Roland Penrose and Lee Miller settled quietly in Farley Farm, in Sussex, where Antony was born and where he grew up. His love for Picasso, who was a frequent visitor to Farley Farm, is conveyed in The Boy Who Bit Picasso, a delightful account of his childhood friendship with the artist, illustrated with Picasso’s drawings and paintings and with photographs by Lee Miller. Farley Farm is open to visitors who can view its collections of work by a range of 20th century artists, including Antony’s parents.

As part of his conversation with us, Antony has told us of the work of Lise Bjorne Linnert, a Norwegian textile artist who in 2006 initiated an international art project: Desconocida Unknown Ukjent. This project uses mass collaboration worldwide in order to protest against the continued murder of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, along the border with the United States. The work consists of embroidered name-tapes, pinned onto large-scale pink boards, pink being the colour that the women in Ciudad Juarez use for protest. This work is created in globally arranged workshops, in which each participant embroiders two nametapes, one bearing the name of a murdered young girl or woman; the other one the word Unknown, in the embroiderer’s own language, to remember victims of similar crimes globally. The choice of nametapes as a medium references the nametapes on the overalls which women in Ciudad Juarez wear when they go to work in the $55 a week jobs in the maquiladoras, – the assembly plants located in the duty-free zone between the US and Mexico. Often, this nametape is the only means of identifying the body of the murdered woman. Embroidering someone’s name for the Desconocida Unknown Ukjent project establishes a connection between the embroiderer and the one being embroidered for. The workshops are arranged independently from exhibiting the project, which is never shown without inviting the local community to participate.

By sharing the catalogue of this exhibition with us, Antony has brought the names of these women to our attention, and has made us aware of the state of Chihuahua and the town of Juarez. It is for this reason that a chance reference to an artist from Juarez by Antonia, a woman who came to our public sewing at the Phoenix in Brighton, created a connection – which would not have otherwise occurred – with the artists’ collective, Colectivo Rezizte, and the muralist, David Flores, aka Mambo.

 David has been in Brighton during August, creating a mural at the Cowley Club as an act of protest against the murders of the women of Juarez. He hopes to raise awareness here in Brighton and in the UK, of the killing fields on the US-Mexico border. David’s mural is also an act of commemoration to the poet-activist Susana Chavez, who, after years of activism, was herself ritually murdered. David was invited to Brighton by Martin Hill and John Kerins, who had met him in Juarez, and for whom David had created a mural in Mexico to commemorate Brighton activist, Simon Levin. David’s journey to Brighton to commemorate Susana Chavez is a reciprocal act of solidarity and resistance.

I met David as he worked on the early stages of the mural at the Cowley. I gave him the catalogue which had been given to me by Antony Penrose, and as David opened it, the book fell open at page 139, which has a photographic reproduction of part of Lise Bjorne Linnert’s artwork Desconocida Unknown Ukjent, a nametape embroidered with the name: Airis Estrella E. and the outline in red of a small heart. David was visibly moved by this name and said it quietly aloud several times. He then explained to me that Airis Estrella was a seven year old young girl, whose body was found in an oil drum full of concrete.  The newspaper report of this horrific killing had been brought to David’s attention by a fellow artist. Their response to this terrifying murder was to form the collective: Colectivo Rezizte.

 David and I noted the manifestation once more of the threads which connect all of us, across continents and across all other boundaries. For we felt that indeed this encounter was a manifestation of a connection, linking all our work. David, Martin and I talked about the courage which activists have to possess in Mexico, where they are routinely murdered, and their murders never investigated, because of the killing and corruption endemic along the US-Mexico border. David noted the sixteen pages at the back of the catalogue which consist solely of a list of all the women whose names are known and whose murders have been verified; there are many more whose names are not known, either because the families are too frightened to name them, or because they have simply disappeared. I decided to give David the catalogue to keep and to take with him back to Mexico, to share with people in Juarez and Chihuahua.

Later, I told Antony Penrose of this encounter and his response was typically generous. He wrote:

This is wonderful, and exactly the reaction I had hoped for. Another catalogue is in the post to you. It is a gift – and it is my privilege to give it to you. I forwarded your  email to Lise – it is important we all remind each other that we are having an effect, however small it may seem compared to the adversity.

 On August 26th Martin and David invited us to the unveiling of the mural, so we were able to see the final work. It is spectacular, covering the entire rear walls of the Cowley Club. A portrait of Susana Chavez, surmounted by her call to resistance: Ni Una Mas, is at the top of the wall, on the left, just below the roof. A portrait of Simon Levin is on the far right. Between these two rises up the powerful trunk of the Arbol dela Vida, or Tree of Life, in the branches of which David has painted a tree house whose window is a window of the building. From another branch hangs a cage, whose bars have been opened by a crowbar wielded by the strong, barefoot young woman in leggings, who is thereby making her escape from imprisonment to liberty, smiling as she grasps the rope which leads up the wall of the building to the safety of the tree house. This young woman activist represents the clear and powerful spirit of resistance. The mural is a joyful, celebratory painting, which inspires powerful feelings of hope and resistance and the unveiling was a joyous and celebratory occasion. It was a space of resistance and opposition to the cruelty and injustice perpetrated globally by fascism.

It felt most fitting that our connection with this space was woven by the connections created by Antony Penrose, who, although unable to attend the unveiling of the mural, sent us an email saying he will look out for it when he is next in Brighton. We look forward to the connection between David Flores, Colectivo Rezizte and ReMaking Guernica continuing into the future.

Maude Casey