by Adriana Miramontes Olivas, author of “Los neoliberarchivos de Teresa Margolles: Contemporary Art at the Mexico-US Border,” Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture (2023) Vol. 5, Issue 2

Image credits: Teresa Margolles, Irrigación (Irrigation), 2010, single-channel video production (Blue-ray), color, sound, 34:12 min loop (photograph provided by the artist and James Cohan, New York, © Teresa Margolles.

What are the conditions that ensure the recurrence of the disappeared throughout the Americas despite the increased visibility of this phenomenon by activists who demand its end as well as justice for their families? What are the systems, institutions, and agents that benefit from ruptured social contexts that sanction disappearances and different forms of violence? What is the role of art, and art history, amidst a state apparatus that enables aggression against bodies? These are the questions I examine in “Los neoliberarchivos de Teresa Margolles: Contemporary Art at the Mexico-U.S. Border,” published in the current issue of Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture.

La frontera, the border, is a place where I grew up and continue to visit both for personal and professional reasons. It is also the site that inspired this research in which I trace the discrimination, marginalization, and disposal of bodies due to their gender, class, and age. A phenomenon recognized as “feminicidios,” termed for the disappearance and murder of women, became hypervisible in the region in the early 1990s when I was still a child. More recently, the terms “juvenicidios” and “masculinicidios” have been adopted to study and recognize the mistreatment, neglect, and other forms of violence to which both youth and men are subjected.

I developed the term “neoliberarchivo,” or the neoliberal archive, to investigate artistic responses to this ongoing violence that has not only extended to other areas in the country, but that has become ubiquitous. The neoliberarchivos are contemporary artworks that document different forms of violence to challenge the political, economic, and social policies that sanction it. The neoliberarchivos respond to the severe conditions caused by the neoliberal regime that renders lives superfluous. Through video art, sculpture, and performance, the neoliberarchivos archive this violence to contest a government apparatus that negates and diminishes this violence. Inspired by grassroot activism and archival practices organized by the mothers of the disappeared and their allies, the neoliberarchivos respond to other archival practices such as Grupo Ocho de Marzo, mapa de feminicidios, the archive of feelings, and the melancholic archive that create counter-histories vis-a-vis the government and hegemonic institutions.

I examine artworks by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles as she condemns the corruption and impunity that allows and facilitates the disappearance and murder of people. This criticism of bodies as expendable and their ungrievability caused by harsh economic practices, a desire for wealth accumulation, and the never-ending so-called “war on drugs” is not unlike the recent (mis)treatment of migrants at the Mexico-U.S. border. Moreover, the brutal encounter between Haitians attempting to enter the United States in 2021 and border police mounted on horses, the politically-motivated transportation of migrants across the U.S., and the 2023 wrongful death of thirty-nine people at a migrant detention center in Ciudad Juárez have further epitomized the notion of disposability.

“Los neoliberarchivos de Teresa Margolles,” as seen in Irrigation, Lote Bravo, and What Else Could We Talk About? Cleaning, archive this violence to call attention to the policies and communities that enable it. By assessing Margolles’s artworks, I aim to not only turn viewers’ attention to the geo-political border, but to the global border regime that seeks to dispose of and control bodies. I do so to denounce this violence and demand its end. Through the neoliberarchivos, I underscore artistic efforts in contemporary art to both enact collective memory and recontextualize the border as a site of creative impetus, artistic activism, criticism, and social change.

Read Adriana Miramontes Olivas’s article, “Los neoliberarchivos de Teresa Margolles: Contemporary Art at the Mexico-US Border,” in Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture for free for a limited time.