On the 26th and 27th of September 2014, Mexican students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Teacher Training School in Ayotzinapa were attacked by the police in Iguala in Guerrero. 6 people, 3 of them students, were murdered and 43 students were forcibly ‘disappeared’.
This tragic event brought to a head the issue of forced disappearance in Mexico [more than 25,000 people since 2007] and sparked a year of protest, international speaker tours with the parents, and an international movement to seek justice for the 43 missing students and the thousands of other people who are counted as ‘the disappeared’.
Many years before, Scottish artist and filmmaker, Campbeltown born Jan Nimmo, had travelled extensively in the state of Guerrero to meet local artisans and musicians; and to document and record their work and the indigenous traditions and customs of the rural villages and towns where they worked.
Since that time Jan’s work has focused on the lives of people in poor communities. She has worked with grassroots activists in Latin America and Africa to make a number of documentary films highlighting environmental and social issues.
Guerrero is one of Mexico’s poorest and most violent states. In September 2014, Jan was devastated to hear of the attack on the students, all of whom came from the poorest of backgrounds and were training to be the teachers of the future, working in the same rural indigenous villages and towns that Jan had visited two decades before.
In October 2014, Jan embarked on a series of portraits of each of the 43 students who had been ‘disappeared’. Her aim was to emphasise the human face of the number ’43’ and to raise awareness, wherever she could, about the appallingly high number of disappeared people in Mexico.
Almost a year later Jan has completed all 43 portraits, as well as an additional 3 pieces for the three students who were murdered. Her work is a labour of love, and pays tribute to the students and their parents.
During the course of the past year Jan’s portraits have been used by various solidarity organisations in Mexico, Europe and the USA, and Jan has collaborated with social justice activist, Eréndira Sandoval Carrillo, in Mexico City. Eréndira is in regular contact with the parents of the missing students and has collected and verified the personal and family details that are the distinguishing feature of Jan’s portraits. Eréndira is also arranging banners with the portraits to be printed for the parents, who will also each receive a print.
This will take place on 26th of September 2015 to coincide with the first anniversary of the disappearances.
The images can be viewed here online and there is also a short film, ¿Dónde Están? [Where are they?], in which Jan has collaborated with Ro Casares and Colectivo Mambotango [Mexico]. Ro’s song, Compañero, accompanies the images. This song was chosen by the students’ families for a solidarity album called De Vuelta a Casa.
Jan’s work features in La Jornada, Mexico’s most respected newspaper and her portraits will open and close a multidisciplinary solidarity event in the Centro Cultural Kirchner in Buenos Aires in Argentina on the 30th September.
Her work is also being be exhibited in New York at the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Memorial Centre in New York as part of the Tribute to the Disappeared initiative and her video and portraits will be at Document International Human Rights film festival in Glasgow. Her video is also being shown at events as far apart as Paris and Melbourne.