400 Women at Shoreditch Town Hall Basement
A Project by Tamsyn Challenger, Curated by Ellen Mara De Wachter
12-28 November 2010
AM: Could you tell me about your current exhibition 400 Women at Shoreditch Town Hall Basement?
TC: 400 is a conceptual project made in response to the brutal rape and murder of countless women and girls in the border region of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. It's reliant on a mass collaboration of artists painting portraits of the missing and murdered and for me each artist participating represents the women I have given them to work with.
The idea behind the project was sparked when I met several of the mothers in Mexico in 2006. One mother in particular singularly affected me. Her name is Consuelo Valenzuela, her daughter Julieta went missing in 2001. As I was leaving she pushed postcards of her daughter into my hands. The face looking up at me, was such a poverty of an image. It had been reproduced from a snapshot and the face was blurred. I think I just wanted to bring that face back again and that's really what started 400 in my mind.
AM: How did you become interested in the story of these murdered women in Mexico?
TC: Initially, I think I read a piece in 2004 or 5 about the situation in the border region of Mexico but I've always been concerned with gender politics and this has never been determined by a specific region for me. It's a global problem as far as I'm concerned; violence toward women is everywhere. Ciudad Juarez is an open wound but underneath that wound are domestic violence figures in the US and UK which are staggering.
AM: How did you select the artists involved in this project?
TC: I basically cold-called artists I like and respect and invited them to collaborate on the project. If they said yes, I would make little connections with the artist to the woman or girl I chose for them. I'd also give them a small amount of information about their woman depending on the artist; as you can imagine some of the info is pretty grisly and I was very aware that I was asking each artist to describe a difficult thing. It was vital that the artist had free reign so that each work was individual.
AM: What outcome do you hope for from this exhibition?
TC: My hope is that unlike the easy way in which each of these women's lives have been disposed of, the 400 Women works won't be so easily disregarded and that they will stand as a political statement in art against gender violence.
AM: What is your next project?
TC: I have another solo show of the Tamsynettes next year and I'll be in a number of group shows. I suspect I won't stray too far from my main concerns of mortality and feminism, but I have been making work recently exploring secrets and love, so who knows ... Maybe these are the same things though!
I'm looking forward to going back into the studio.
Ali MacGilp and Tamsyn Challenger