Each illustration serves a small gesture of empathy and validation, a gift to families who might never get closure.
“Rosa, Chiapas. She was approximately 60 years old.” Illustration by Abril Salas, used with permission.
The Trump administration Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, recently ruled not to grant asylum to immigrants who have cited domestic abuse as a threat to their safety. “The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim,” Sessions wrote in his ruling. For some women, remaining in the region where they face violence can ultimately become a death sentence.
Femicide has little coverage in international media, so a pair of illustrators has launched a project to pay tribute to these victims of violence. No Estamos Todas (We Are Not All Here) enlisted an illustrator to do portraits of victims of femicide and then distribute it on social media.
“Daniela was last seen in the state of Mexico on March 10, 2015.” Illustration courtesy of No Estamos Todas.
Visualizing the victims
The NET project began in September 2017, when they discovered freelance reporter Frida Guerrera Villalvazo’s blog, which for the last 10 years has “denounce[d] violations of human rights” and shed light on femicides. Her information on the deaths of women, along with an online map pinpointing the areas of femicides, ultimately served as a call to action for two women illustrators who created NET.
“We try to look up the lives of these women, what did they do, what did they like. But we couldn’t find it,” one of the NET creators — who wished to remain anonymous, out of safety — told GOOD via Skype. “We tried just to imagine, to write down their names, and — as this list was endless — we thought it would be a nice idea to invite more people to join in our project.”
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Why speak of them only in the way they were killed?[/quote]
The duo then started messaging other illustrators with the seeds of their idea. Little by little, they gained more support. One illustrator offered to work on their logo and “identity.” From there, they started sharing information on femicides with illustrators interested in creating work for the account. They started to reach out to friends — some of whom “just ignored” them, they say — before taking to social media to contact illustrators they admired. They started with a list of Mexican illustrators and soon broadened their focus to include artists from other countries.
The feed currently includes art from illustrators in Guatemala, Peru, and more.
“María Elena, 11/06/17, Coahuila, she was 29 years old.” Illustration by Nicole Domínguez / Oko, used with permission.
Sketches of a memory
NET sends each illustrator a case and as much information as they can find on the femicide. Each illustration features the femicide victim’s name, age, and location; in instances where no name is available, the description includes an ellipsis. This often sparks a discussion, even before the illustration goes live on the account.
“Some of them talk to us like ‘because of the project I realized that there was another femicide near me, and I didn’t know it had that name.’ Or [they] just start being conscious about it … and that’s what we’re trying to do, to start a conversation,” says one of NET’s creators.
But raising awareness about the issue of femicide also means addressing how these women are depicted after their death.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]They probably never thought they would die that way.[/quote]
For NET, the importance lies in creating a lively and touching tribute for each woman. The gruesome details of the murder are already covered by some of the more sensational media outlets — often in misogynistic ways, NET says — and the organization wants to shift the focus.
“They had a life before. And they probably had dreams, and they probably never thought they would die that way,” says NET’s co-creator. “So why speak of them only in the way they were killed?”
In some cases, the organization received details about each woman from family members.
They did not ask for the details about her death. Instead, they sought out tidbits about her life.
One family mentioned that the loved one they lost loved dogs and the color purple. So the illustration created to honor Dany — who was 15 years old — shows her holding a small dog in her arms. Her shirt is a light purple, and the flowers around her vary in shades of blue and purple. Illustrator Karla Alcazar, based in Mexico, depicted Dany in an aesthetic similar to her other figures — serene yet playful and surrounded by nature.
“Dany, 06/10/16, Nuevo León. She was 15 years old.” Illustration by Karla Alcazar, used with permission.
But there isn’t always information about each woman.
In these cases, illustrators use their imaginations to fill in the blanks. NET doesn’t reach out to families directly; they let families come to them if they are interested. The group remains anonymous for safety reasons and also to keep the focus on the mission, not on individual people.
“I don’t want a note to be written like she [was] the one with the idea, the one that illustrated. Because, yeah, we thought of the idea between two people, but the reality is that today more than 300 people have worked with us,” NET’s co-creator says.
“Unknown name, 21/02/17, Reynosa.” Illustration by Laiza Onofre, used with permission.
Joining a movement
NET also emphasizes that the organization is just one way to raise awareness.
“There are also other projects working with this — people writing, people doing maps, people going to NGOs and actually changing the laws. This is just a part of the movement,” NET’s co-founder says.
But NET’s impact continues to grow.
As the illustrations get shared more and more across social media channels, families have been reaching out to NET to ask if they could illustrate someone they lost.
The community doesn’t charge for illustrations.
“All the efforts are totally free and totally voluntary,” NET’s co-founder says. “At the beginning, one [mother] asked us if she can buy an illustration of her daughter, and we told her it was a gift. So now we are trying to illustrate as a gift.”
Each illustration serves a small gesture of empathy and validation; a gift to families who might never get closure.
Or as NET puts it: Their project is a way “to honor their lives not the way they were killed.”