Maguire isn’t the first artist hoping to raise awareness through art about the feminicide in Juarez. In 2008, artists Swoon and Tennessee Jane created an installation titled “Portrait of Silvia Elena” in Honey Space in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Like the Irishman’s project, their installation was deeply emotional and sought to give a face to the thousands of victims of these heinous crimes.
Maguire’s work has always dealt with social justice issues. He has spent 30 years painting in prisons and mental asylums in Ireland, Europe and the Americas, and ten years ago in Brazil, he took on the subject of the disappeared victims of the military dictatorship. In 2000, he began making films based on his work, and two years into his Juarez stay, he and the director Mark McLoughlin began work on the documentary Blood Rising. It first premiered in Dublin last year, and it will soon be screened in theaters throughout Britain.
“Mostly, for me, art comes from a spirit of revenge,” Maguire explains at one point in the film, which he sees as an additional way to challenge the narrative of impunity. “There is no justice, but if you point that out, you’re taking revenge on the lack of justice. Some art comes from love, but mostly it comes from anger.”
Looking at a portrait of 17-year-old Brenda Berenice Costillo Garcia, whose body was found in a dump with 11 other women’s corpses in February 2012, Maguire says, “If I take on anything in this work, it’s to make an image which speaks of the person that’s gone. I don’t know her, but I do know her mother. I do know her children. I have made some investigation as regards her personality. And I have an image.”It’s a heart-wrenching, difficult film, but toward the end, Maguire cautions against embracing the mass-media stereotype of Juarez as a place lost entirely to violence.“It’s still a city of a million and a half people, who are rearing their children best they can, and educating them, and doing what normal people do,” he says. “So it’s necessary for us to create a solidarity which is international. The necessity to resist — that is not a choice. It is an absolute necessity. In order to stay alive, to remain fully human, it’s necessary to resist.”
Throughout the film, it’s striking how out of place the pale Irish man looks in the streets of Ciudad Juarez, but Maguire seems perfectly at ease. There’s nothing self-serving about his project, never a moment where one feels he’s trying to profit artistically off of someone else’s tragedy. He also rarely indulges his own sadness; there are moments when he is visibly emotional on screen, but he never despairs. If art, as he says, grows out of anger, then Maguire is outraged. And there’s not much room for anything else.