Sunday, January 29, 2012

Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas

A augmented reality monument to the missing women of Ciudad Juárez and the opium brides of Afghanistan

By John Craig Freeman and Christina Marin

Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas will premier at ManifestAR @ LA Re.Play, an Exhibition of Mobile Art in conjunction with Mobile Art: The Aesthetics of Mobile Network Culture in Placemaking during the College Arts Association Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, February 22-29, 2012.

Since 1993, hundreds of young women have been murdered and their bodies abandoned in vacant lots around Ciudad Juárez just over the border from El Paso. Many showed signs of sexual violence, torment, torture or in some cases disfigurement. Most of these women were migrant workers who traveled to Juárez from other parts of Mexico seeking employment at the nearby multinational maquiladoras. As Max Blumenthal wrote in his article for Solaon Day of the dead, dated December 4, 2002, "Free-trade advocates once promised that NAFTA would transform Juarez into the City of the Future — and they have been proven right in a way they never could have imagined." To this day, most of these murders remain unsolved and the perpetrators unpunished.

Unfortunately, there are no statistics about how many girls have been traded for debt incurred from opium eradication policies in Afghanistan, but journalists and NGOs like the International Organization for Migration have documented instances of such transactions taking place across the country. Traditionally, the Afghan society is patriarchal in its nature, and women often are considered the property of men. The practice of using women and girls for dispute settlements has been a part of the Afghan society for centuries. Drug smugglers loan poor Afghan farmers money to plant opium. When the government destroys the crop as part of its opium eradication program, the farmers are still liable for the debt and are often forced to trade their daughters or face the threat of having the entire family murdered. The girls are then sold off as Opium Brides.

Los Angeles' historic Olvera Street is arguably the oldest theme park in existence. With its foundations in Old Town Los Angeles, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, Olvera Street was converted to a festive Mexican marketplace in the 1930's, a full two decades before the founding of Disneyland. For over eighty years, Olvera Street has provided a safer alternative border experience for tourists. It is perfectly plausible that Walt Disney's ideas of transporting people to imaginary places for amusement were formed in part during his visits to Olvera Street and nearby Chinatown. "Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas" turns this border-themed virtual reality on its head by introducing very real contemporary border issues through augmented reality technology.

Built for smart phone mobile devices, "Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas" creates a lasting monument to victims of feminicidios, female homicides, in Ciudad Juárez and the opium brides of Afghanistan. The public can simply download and launch a mobile application and aim their devices' cameras at the top of Olvera Street and the surrounding plaza or La Placita. The application uses geolocation software to superimpose individual augments at precise GPS coordinates, enabling the public to see the objects integrated into the physical location as if they existed in the real world.

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