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Deborah Koenker: The Mexican Night


In 1980 when I came across Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s The Mexican Night travel journal in a bookstore, his title summed up the sensuous mystery and magic I’d recently experienced while living in Mexico for 5 months. Intensely visual and sensory, my travels in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Michoacan and Guanajuato, visits to Cora and Huichol indigenous villages and the intensity of Mexico City resulted in this series of 13 prints produced between 1981-1983, also titled The Mexican Night. Frida Kahlo’s house in Coyoacan, patios, haciendas, gardens, deserts, weddings, shrines, marimba and samba music, wildly imaginative crafts and ceramics--produced, quite literally, from dreams -- translated into a vocabulary of transforming visual elements: ‘leaf’ to ‘eye’ to ‘footstep’. Using movement, colour and a loose drawing style I sought to convey an immediacy that belied the laborious lithographic, etching and silkscreen processes.

Thirty years of return visits and a large Mexican family acquired through marriage followed that first encounter--thirty years of radical changes in Mexican culture and in my own awareness. In 2007 I produced Ten Digit Suite, comprised of 10 silkscreen editions based on Las Desaparecidas/Missing, an installation work done in collaboration with villagers in Tapalpa, Jalisco. Las Desaparecidas/Missing focuses on the largely un-investigated murders and disappearances of hundreds of Mexican girls and women in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua--mostly poor factory workers employed in the ‘maquiladoras’, the assembly plants that mushroomed as a result of NAFTA. Selected from the 84 hand-embroidered fingerprints done by the Tapalpa participants in protest against the Ciudad Juarez murders and in support of the victims’ families, these printed images are organic and multi-referential; not immediately recognizable as fingerprints. As innocuous as they seem they point to a darker, more brutal and violent aspect of ‘the Mexican night’.