As Puerto Rico Struggles With Rising Femicides, an Art Series Remembers Those Killed in 2019

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Read more

Puerto Rico has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world, and with the small Caribbean archipelago repeatedly hit with back-to-back natural diasters, experts believe the violence will continue to increase. At the Museo de las Américas in San Juan, the island’s capital, a portrait series is honoring some of the women who died in 2019 as a result of gender-based violence.

Incorporating florals, the series, created by Puerto Rican artist Elizabeth Barreto, remembers 12 women victims of femicide, the killing of women based on their gender. 

The women included in the program are Luz Iraida Nieves Olivo, Marta Rosa Alvarado, Ana Roque Mulero, Arlene García Rosario, Laneyshka Giselle Tirado Rivera and Rosaura Rivera Vázquez, Lourdes del Carmen Cuevas Natal, Mercedes Duarte Rosario, Yomaira Hernández Martínez, Thyndia Cruz, Yashira Serra Santiago, and Rosselly Cintrón Torres.

“This series of portraits is part of the installation of pain- and -rage-born rebellion and resistance,” Barreto said in a Facebook post introducing the project.

As she notes, the portraits, which were inspired by images of the women either published in the press or on their social media pages, does not include all femicide victims in Puerto Rico, largely because the archipelago does not have a trusted system of counting and documenting victims of gender-based violence. 

“One cannot avoid thinking that beyond what we learned through the press, what are the real figures of victims of femicides in Puerto Rico? Are trans and foreign women included? Why have these victims not been counted and made known,” she asked.

With a lack of data, Carmen Castelló, a former social worker in Puerto Rico, created a Facebook page that she uses to track cases of murdered and disappeared women on the island. Last year, the anti-police brutality group Kilómetro Cero and the feminist organization Proyecto Matria teamed up to create “Persistence of Indolence,” a report on femicides in Puerto Rico that uses Castelló’s data. The study found that Puerto Rico’s Police Bureau undercounted murders of women between 2014 and 2018 by 11 to 27 percent each year. According to the report, during the five-year period, there were as many as 266 femicides on the small archipelago.

“In the absence of reliable statistics, the inconsistency between the police data, the demographic record and the press, how do you correct and know in depth the problem when the state acts negligently and, consequently, criminally? The state makes invisible the death of our women, our victims of Hurricane María, and now intends to do the same against our victims,” Barreto said, stating that the people of Puerto Rico will continue to fight against gender-based violence on the island and for the rights and dignity of victims and survivors. 

The series is currently being exhibited at the Museo de Las Américas: Cuartel de Ballaja.