They gathered in the chill of a high desert night, around a bakery on a street corner in the US-Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, to blend homage with mourning, love with sorrow.
Opposite them: a mural of painted eyes and the words “Te observan” – they’re watching you. And a self-portrait by the artist, Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre, 25, shedding a tear. It is a prescient touch: at the foot of the painting is a floral tribute to Cabanillas, who was shot in the head on 18 January while cycling home.
Days of rage followed: marches downtown blocking the Santa Fe border bridge; women wearing pink balaclavas to commemorate the victims of the rash of murders of women in Juárez during the 1990s and 2000s – of which this outrage is the latest mutation.
Tonight is music, conversation and celebration of Isabel’s metier: art, for sale tonight at voluntary prices towards a fund for her now motherless four-year-old son. “We’re doing what she would have wanted us to do”, said Arón Venegas, the founder of Pure Borde, the art collective to which Isabel belonged.
Lydia Graco, a member of Pure Borde, said in a heart-wrenching moment: “Isa, we’re sorry we couldn’t stop your femicide. Forgive us, Isa, please. We owe you, comrade, we owe you.”
The event was convened by Puro Borde – pure border. “In a city hollowed out by narco war, we try to take back the streets with art, colours and visual ideas,” said Venegas. The event was already scheduled before Isabel was killed. “It’s unbearably tragic she’s not here.”
The last thing Isabel Cabanillas did was enjoy a drink with friends at Eugenio’s bar in central Juárez – a genial, mostly young bohemian joint.
A week after the murder, the bar is full as usual, with chatter and banter about Isabel and not. Cabanillas was “widely known” and “much-loved” across the city, every burrito vendor and tender of the artier bars in central Juárez affirms.
“She was funny,” said Marte, a poet, who, like other female friends of Cabanillas interviewed, used a pseudonym. “She had what I’d call a white humour, rather than black. A pure humour, simple and sensitive. She laughed, and made other people laugh.”
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