Bloodshot faces, baked into ceramic pots, grimace in pain. Gnarled fingers poke from ashen clay. A skull and hands, the only remains of a body, grip the top of a wall, trying to escape.
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They are among more than 100 pieces created by Francisco Toledo, perhaps Mexico’s most famous living artist, for his “Mourning” exhibit, a memorial to the country’s recent mass killings and disappearances, including 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college in Guerrero state who went missing in September 2014.
“Never before has there been such violence in Mexico as in recent years, really,” he said in a weekend interview. “I wanted to leave a testimony of this violence.”
The government said the 43 youths were incinerated by a drug gang in league with corrupt police who rounded them up in the city of Iguala in Guerrero after mistaking them for rivals.
The case and subsequent investigation sparked international condemnation of Mexico. To date, the remains of only one of the missing students have been definitively identified.
Toledo said “Mourning,” on display at Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art through March, was inspired by ancient black pottery from his native southern state of Oaxaca, which borders Guerrero.
The haunting pieces include crouched figures with scarlet-grooved eye sockets, exposed rib cages and perforated knees and elbows.
Crimson-dotted ceramic ropes fasten bones to a black drum topped by a dog’s head, a reference to pre-Columbian cultures in which canines guided the dead through the underworld.
Toledo also recalled the case of Tlatlaya, where prosecutors say soldiers executed at least a dozen suspected gang members who had surrendered to the army in June 2014.
Tlatlaya is near Guerrero, where Toledo said the pre-Hispanic Yopes civilization sacrificed slaves.
“In a way, this type of sacrifice is being repeated,” he said.
Besides “Mourning,” Toledo has turned to other art forms to stir awareness of the Ayotzinapa students.
The 75-year-old Toledo created 43 kites, each stamped with the face of one of the missing, and sprinted across a soccer field to get them aloft.
Toledo, who has sold his paintings for as much as $902,500, sponsored an Ayotzinapa-themed poster contest, with entries coming from as far as Poland, Germany and Israel, his daughter Sara said.
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The 50 winning posters have been exhibited in Barcelona, the Netherlands and Britain in a fundraising drive for the students’ parents.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)