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Nabil Gonzalez

Interview conducted by Madeline De La Cancela, Scripps College '20


How does the experience start from the casing or cover of the artwork? Why use the materials you did?

The book is covered with a plastic band that contains sand and a repeated image of silhouettes standing next to big crosses. With this kind of band I wanted the book to be covered in sand and most of all I wanted the viewer to initially be confronted by the desert. Many of the dead women have been found in the desert of Ciudad Juarez, not only that but many of these women also live on the outskirts of the city and the desert is the predominant landscape there.
“Las Muertas de Juarez” was worldwide news. What prompted you to create this work? Especially at the time you did?

Since I can remember Ive been exposed to these kind of social and political issues, growing up on a border town El Paso/Ciudad Juarez you get exposed to these problems from a very young age that eventually you become numb to them. Since a very young age Ive been aware of Las Muertas de Juarez but to a point I became numb to it. When I was on my last semester (2012) of undergrad I really became interested in political art and started researching about the drug war that was currently happening in Ciudad Juarez (2006-2012). In my research I found a connection between the drug cartels and the disappeared women, which instantly became interesting to me and I started researching about the women. The more I knew about this issue the more I felt people needed to know about it. Being away from home felt like the perfect setting for me to start speaking about this issue and bring awareness to it specially because I was so far away from the border with Mexico and the culture was completely different.
The abductions began in 1993 and continue on today. Why title the book 1994?

Yes the abductions began in 1993 but at the time it was still not considered a serious problem by the authorities. In January of 1994 NAFTA was implemented in Ciudad Juarez and a lot of factories opened. At the time these factories employed large amount of young women from poor backgrounds that were trying to earn money to support their families and pay for their own education. A lot of the disappeared women went missing after their shifts ended at the factories. “Mysteriously disappeared from their factory/home course riding special transportation that was provided by the factories”. NAFTA and the factories where big and key contributors to the problem.
Every missing girl has her own story. When first creating this project, did you know you would do an artist's book? Why not dedicate a museum exhibit or something of larger scale to the art?

No I think the book just happened on its own and it was actually the first piece I made about the disappeared women. At the time I just thought it would be a nice way for me to honor all those missing women and their families, but as I learned more and more about the issue I felt I had to do more about it. That's when my whole grad school career was focused on the disappeared women and the body of work just started growing and growing. Now a year later after graduating grad school my art career is still focused on the disappeared women.
How did you decide to balance between text and image? Which is of greater importance? Why have text in both Spanish and English?

I think both are important text and image because they both inform each other. I felt it was important to give some back story to the issue I was presenting instead of just confronting the viewer with strong imagery. My mann goal was to show evidence and inform. I decided to have the text in both Spanish and English because at the time I was in a place where people mainly spoke english and it was important for me that they understood the content in order to feel a
connection. But I also knew that I would be back home and that maybe I would want to show the book there, where not everyone speaks english.
With various different formats of presenting art, what drew you to create this piece in the form of an artist's book? How do you think the format of an artist's book best explores/examines race and identity?

Well this book was created for a book arts class I was taking at the time so that explains the book format. I feel that books are a very powerful tool and they are intimate objects. A reader forms an instant intimate relationship with the book when holding it and directing its attention exclusively to the book. As readers/viewers we decide what information to retain from that book we are interacting with but either way the book has impacted our memory in some way.

I chose to create this work in the book format because I was thinking of the function of a book which is to inform and that is the main thing I was looking for I wanted to inform my audience about this particular issue. I feel that the relationship between a book and the viewer becomes is a very intimate relationship due to the fact that the viewer holds and directly interacts with the book. 
I think that for my particular subject matter the book is a great metaphor for the loss of identity. The book has a specific content but when it's closed it hides all content, it is really hard to exactly know what is inside the book unless it is opened. Sure people can guess what the book is about by looking at title and cover but that is just a guess. Just like with the identity of the disappeared victims, authorities can guess what happened to the victims but unless they perform an adequate search and investigation they will not know exactly what happened to the victims and their identity remains lost. 

How would you like your audience to interact with your work?

I would like the audience to experience all stages of the book from pulling off the band to opening it and flipping through the pages to extending the accordion all the way put to reveal all the name tags hanging from the back side of the pages.  
How are the central themes/messages of your work relevant to contemporary issues?

Well I think violence towards women will always be relevant to contemporary issues because we live in a society that is still stigmatized by the idea of women being inferior to men. It is 2017 and society is still having a hard time with gender equality. Women still get abused every day by men who see us as inferior. Las Muertas de Juarez is not just an issue that affects Mexico but its something that affect the entire world, young girls and women disappear every day and are never seen again in every country and its something that will never stop happening. 

One of the main themes that I explore in this particular work is the loss of identity through disappearance. Loss of identity is extremely relevant in today's current issues about immigration. I feel that many of the immigrants that come to this country are forced to leave behind their true identities in order to fit in within the American society and what is expected and accepted.