Battle of the brushes: Mexico's protest artists revive missing students

Story highlights

  • The 43 Artist Group is maintaining awareness of the 43 students who went missing in Iguala, Mexico in September 2014.
  • "We have no weapons other than our brushes," says artist Joel Amateco Veneacio.

(CNN)They've been missing for over a year, but the victims of the Iguala student disappearance have re-emerged thanks to the efforts of a poignant and powerful project by Mexican artists.

Known as the 43 Artist Group, they're keeping the flame of hope burning by painting portraits of the missing students -- a defiant move in the current political climate.

Fourty three young lives

    On September 26, 2014, 43 students went missing from Iguala, Mexico. Authorities say the students were heading to a protest when they disappeared. Jose Angel, one of those missing, called his father in a panic, saying they were being attacked by police. Since that night, no one has heard from Angel or the other students -- missing and feared dead.
    Artists, upset with local authorities' lack of answers and demanding justice, picked up brushes and began painting in protest.
    Relatives of the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa school take part in a protest in Mexico City.
    "Today's politicians have failed to convince, but art touches the most sensitive parts of us as humans," Group member Joel Amateco Veneacio, told CNN.
    "We have no weapons other than our brushes."
    Formed in late 2014, The 43 Artist Group consists of 15 painters and took part the first anniversary of the event in September 2015. Protests were held throughout Mexico and art was at the forefront -- as it was in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks.
    The number 43 and decorated faces were broadcast around the world. One mask in particular caught the media's attention: a deathly face whose teeth spelled "Ayotzinapa", the city in Guerrero state from which the students originated.
    A mask worn by a protestor in Mexico city, on September 26, 2015.
    The 43 Artist Group have nearly completed their latest project.
    "We wanted to do something bigger," Veneacio explains, "what a sign painter, an advertiser, a graphic designer cannot do: draw the faces of the 43."
    Veneacio believes the portraits will have a greater impact on people than a verbal debate. A graduate and instructor at the small college in Ayotzinapa where the students were allegedly kidnapped, he says "the 43 students are my students."
    What's more, two of the missing students are also members of his family. "Adam is my cousin and Emiliano too," Veneacio explains. "There is a strong relationship."
    The reception to group's initial series of portraits has spurred them on to create a series of finer, more realistic paintings.
    The group wants to display the injustice of the missing 43 by showcasing the paintings in Guerrero, Mexico, and displaying the portraits internationally.
    "To go to international and European countries, a tour of those countries to continue the flame with the light of the movement" Veneacio argues.
    There is still hope, he says: "Today, we paint with pain, but tomorrow, we paint by joy."