Murder of 1,400 Juárez Women Inspires Brian Maguire’s Show at Fergus McCaffrey

14 paintings address the artist's take on the Mexican drug war.

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Brian Maguire, Jail Visiting (1990).
Photo: Courtesy of Kerlin Gallery.

Brian Maguire is a courageous artist with a strong social conscience. Over the past few years, he has undertaken the portraiture of thousands of women slain at the hands of drug cartels in the Mexican city of Juárez.

His exhibit “Brian Maguire: The Absence of Justice Demands This Act,” opens at Fergus McCaffrey on March 5. This is the gallery’s first exhibition of works by the Irish painter. Fourteen large paintings on view at the gallery will address Maguire’s sensitive take on the Mexican drug war.

The presentation will also include a documentary entitled Blood Rising, directed by Mark McLoughlin and chronicling Maguire’s activism in Mexico in light of the “feminocidio,” or ghastly murders (see Naked Youths Take to Mexican Streets to Protest Student Killings Documented by Edgar Olguin). McLoughlin and Maguire collaborated closely on the film, which premiered in Dublin last year and in the UK this past summer.

The killing campaign in Mexico has taken the lives of more than 1,400 young women since 1994, mainly factory girls working in maquiladoras, sweatshops of sorts, who were abducted around town. Maguire spent time with the victim’s mothers, discussing their daughter’s lives and premature deaths, before beginning to paint two portraits of each victim: one representing the young girl during her life and another, after death. Though his works are intuitively somber in subject matter and style, they convey a subtle hopefulness in the boldness of strokes and in the unexpected pops of color.

Maguire’s artwork has always carried with it a stamp of deep-seated social responsibility.  The artists’ activist sensibilities stem from his involvement with the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and, in many ways, he has since christened himself a custodian of social justice.

His canvases have emerged as visual tributes to the voiceless and abandoned. In the 1980’s, he began cataloging incarcerated groups in Ireland, capturing prisoners in jails and patients in mental institutions. In his own way, he has been able to bestow dignity and a sense of worth onto marginalized members of society.

Due to the gritty subject matter of his works, Maguire has been associated with the Neue Wilde (or New Wild) movement, which was defined by the highly subjective expressionist paintings of a group of artists from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland who frequently addressed subjects like fear, obsession, and sexuality. In a recent interview, the artist describes himself as “entirely outside that new British school of art which has left reality, [which is] all kitsch and commodity.” Maguire, on the other hand, seems compelled towards subjects of substance and gravitas.

However, Maguire is not satisfied with merely illustrating such issues. He believes the artist must disseminate his or her work in order to foster dialogue and spread awareness.

“You have to bring some value to the place and people, which gives you the right to work there […] For a start, I can take their story outside Mexico, and tell it to Europe…I can campaign for them by showing my paintings in museums,” Maguire relays in the interview. And hopefully, with this new exhibit at Fergus McCaffrey, he will succeed in this task.

The show runs through April 25.

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