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Mexico's missing children inspire artist

February 4, 2009 |  2:31 pm

Nino Perdido / Lost Child

Jonathan Mirando García, age 7. Disappeared in the Tlapan neighborhood of Mexico City on Nov. 22, 2006. Distinguishing features: a mole on his nose.

Saul Hernandez Ramírez, 10 months old and 55 centimeters in size. Disappeared in Naucalpan, Mexico City, on an unknown date.

América Martínez Enriquez, 1 month old. Disappeared from Matamoros, in the state of Tamaulipas, on June 23, 2003.

The list of missing children in Mexico, crushingly, goes on for a lot longer. About 45,000 children are reported missing in Mexico every year, according to Aprenem (Asociación Pro Recuperación de Niños Extraviados y Orientación de la Juventud de México), an organization dedicated to trying to find them.

It was that staggering fact as well as the huge number of posters and ads for missing children around Mexico City that prompted Mexican artist Ilán Lieberman, 39, to create "Niño Perdido" (Lost Child). The exhibition, which will be accompanied by a book of the same name later this year, opened Tuesday in the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico in downtown Mexico City and is scheduled to travel to El Paso, Texas, in June.

Rosario
Lieberman spent more than three years working on 100 drawings that are intricate copies of often bad-quality newspaper photographs of missing children, taken from the Mexican newspaper Metro. Using a pencil and a microscope, he labored over each postage stamp-sized portrait for two weeks –- almost as though he was paying personal homage to each boy and girl.

The result is a show of tiny drawings framed and hung in the upstairs gallery of the museum, and on Tuesday the exhibition’s first visitors inspected the detailed images with magnifying glasses provided as part of the work.

“What these images represent is a social reality in Mexican society,” Lieberman said.

The exhibition also features the newspapers from which Lieberman cut out many of the images that he so painstakingly copied. Often, ads for the missing children with basic information such as their age and where they disappeared were published alongside lists of recovered stolen cars, or on the other side of a news page carrying bloody, attention-grabbing stories.

“That says everything there is to say about the issue," Lieberman said. “A lack of information and a lack of care.

“The sensation that I got from those images was sad ... that they seemed so forgotten.”

The show brings out the profundity of those tiny images -- how the loss of something so precious is represented in such a poor way. It also reflects a very sad reality and one that, according to Aprenem, the Mexican government does little to change.

But Lieberman insists that the show is not a direct attempt to change government action on the issue, but to prompt society as a whole to reflect more on Mexico’s disappeared children.

“It’s not criticism specifically against the Mexican government, because it’s a problem within Mexican society -– it shows a lack of care on the part of our society as a whole and our social fabric.”

Lieberman also stressed that the project has an artistic angle, examining the concept of reproduction versus originals.

Past works by the artist have seen him labeled the “human photocopier” by reviewers. The 2005 New York show "Desperdicios," or "Waste," featured hand-drawn replicas of objects such as a yellow Post-it notes with a telephone number scribbled across it, a restaurant customer's bill, and a folded phone message slip.

"Niño Perdido" will be showing in the Museo de la Ciudad de México until May 10. After that, the exhibition will travel north to El Paso, on the U.S.-Mexico border, and neighboring Ciudad Juarez -– one of Mexico’s most violent urban centers. Not only is the city currently in the grip of extreme drug violence, but it has a long history of women being slain or disappearing.

Given the theme of the exhibition, Lieberman said, a showing next to Juarez made a lot of sense.

Nino Perdido / Lost Child

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

Top photo: The drawings in Ilán Lieberman's "Niño Perdido" (Lost Child) exhibition in Mexico City are best appreciated with a magnifying glass. Credit: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times

Middle photo: Lieberman's drawing of Rosario Pérez Monzalvo, age 1. Height 70 centimeters. Slim build. Brown hair. Big, dark brown eyes. Distinguishing features include a rash on her legs. Disappeared from Ixtapaluca in the state of Mexico. Credit: Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico

Bottom photo: Museum visitors view the "Niño Perdido" (Lost Child) exhibition in Mexico City. Credit: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times

See more pictures from the exhibition here on Flickr.

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