EL PASO, Texas — Student artist Yvianna Hernandez uses cards from a popular borderland bingo game known as “La Loteria” to depict the tragedy of a drug war that has claimed some 5,000 lives in Ciudad Juárez in the last two-and-a-half years.
The popular Mexican game of chance has long been a staple in the border sister cities of El Paso and Juárez. Now Hernandez, a senior drawing major at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is calling attention to the violence by using the traditional folk-art icons as backgrounds for her drawings.
“It was actually a silly idea to me that I really didn’t want to do because ‘La Loteria’ has been overdone so many times,” said Hernandez. “You even see loteria art on the walls of Wal-Mart bathrooms, so I really wasn’t too inclined to do it.”
Having started with the idea of “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore of the weeping woman, Hernandez decided to depict a portrait of a woman crying over her dead son, killed in the Juárez bloodshed.
“The ideas slowly started snowballing after that,” said Hernandez.
Her piece, titled, “La Loteria Fronteriza: Book/The Borderland Lottery: Libro,” grabbed widespread attention. Although Hernandez at first was too shy to show off her work, her art professors encouraged her to hold an exhibit of her work, in the Glass Gallery, located on the third floor of the Fox Fine Arts Center at UTEP. She titled the exhibit, “Face to Face.”
The work portrays many of the reoccurring incidents that Juárez has been facing since the drug war broke out in 2008. “La Pelona” depicts the story of an elderly woman who was at a beauty salon decrying the drug cartels when she was overheard by a hit man who was also a client at the shop.
“The sicario (hit man) pointed the gun at the woman’s hairdresser and told her to shave the woman’s head or else he would kill her,” said Hernandez. “Hence, where I got the idea for ‘La Pelona,’ or bald lady.”
While that woman only lost her hair and not her life, many of the other Loteria cards depict more disturbing images, such as “La Mano” (the hand), which has a missing finger, “El Arbol” (the tree), which has a hanging man wearing a pig’s mask, and ”La Dama” (the lady), which shows crosses over the buried corpses of the women who have been murdered in Juárez.
“Many people just brush off ‘La Loteria’ as being a board game, so I incorporated upsetting images using the classic themes, while also using original elements such as ‘La Pera,’ ‘La Luna,’ and ‘El Nopal’ that didn’t have anything to do with the violence in Juarez.”
When asked if her artwork can be a step in ending the violence, Hernandez quickly responds with a no.
“It’s just art,” said Hernandez. “We’re going to need a huge political revolution to end the darkness in Juárez.”
Hernandez feels that the news has almost desensitized people to the bloodshed that happens right across the border.
Besides “La Loteria,” Hernandez also displayed other recent work that focuses on faces and hands. Prone to rheumatoid arthritis herself, a lot of Hernandez’s work displays images of hands, knuckles, mutilation, and deformation.
“I guess I just did a lot of venting,” said Hernandez.
Because most of her artwork is intuitive and unplanned, Hernandez says some pieces do not have meanings.
“My grandmother did not understand some of the pieces and wanted explanations for all of them,” said Hernandez. “I just had to tell her that it’s just a drawing and that she was looking for something that’s not there.”
Hernandez plans to apply to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin and to schools in Boston once she graduates from UTEP. She intends to continue pursuing her career in drawing and printing.