Gender-based Violence in Argentina
In a transmedia essay, Sebastian Pani and Belen Grosso investigate and denounce the high rate of femicide in Argentina, giving a voice to the women themselves.
Figures about femicide in Latin America are unsettling. In Argentina alone, an estimated 298 women were victims of murder because of their gender last year. And as horrific as the number sounds, Argentina stands far behind most Latin American countries - the murder rate for women is about a tenth of that in El Salvador and Honduras.
Where Argentina stands out is in the activism that the violence has stirred up. Since 2015, the grassroots movement #NiUnaMenos (Not one [woman] less) has worked for the implementation of laws protecting women. The numbers may show an increase in femicides since 2015, but they nonetheless reveal that such crimes are getting reported more than they used to be and that women have been empowered by this movement.
Argentinian photographers Sebastian Pani and Belen Grosso decided to expose the issue in a photo essay, focusing on fire attacks. “Fire is the most extreme form of violence. We initiated the project after covering the first #NiUnaMenos protest in 2015. We noticed women with burn scars and decided to concentrate on that as it had never been done in Argentina – most marks of violence disappear, but not that of fire”, they explain.
While the method Grosso and Pani denounce aims at destroying the body, their portraits are a way for the women to reclaim it - and with it, dignity. “Our idea was to be explicit. We want to show the consequences of this violence. In the meantime, we want people to be able to look at these images.” The women they met accepted showing their scars and telling their stories. “Most victims want to speak and show their scars. They don’t consider themselves as victims but as survivors and feel safe in regards to the way society looks at them. This is why we added a video to accompany our photos. It was a way to include their voice”, they say. They recently compiled testimonies and photos in a book and will soon launch a website that will serve as a tool for the community.
In addition to portraits, the photographers include metaphorical images that work as reminders as to how society enables this to happen by being largely machista and religious. “We spoke to the parents of a victim who died and who relied on divine justice instead of law”, they recount. Reminders, also, of the radical destruction implied by fire - something Argentinian writer, Selva Almada, who wrote a text based on the testimonies collected by Grosso and Pani, conveyed in a powerful poem giving its title to their photo series:
“And one day, the fire. You feel the cold ardor of the liquid on your clothes, on your body. And one day, the fire.
You look hallucinated at the lighter clicking. You see the small, rocking flame. And one day, the fire.
You hear the sound of the tiny combustion that immediately becomes a fire.
The devastated land is you. The devastated land is you. The devastated land is you.
After, the darkness.”
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.