The Focus section of this year’s Armory Show is a tight affair of 12 rather small booths—really just corners—that sits in front of the VIP Lounge.
They are hard spaces to install in, running the risk of a display that is too bare, too full, or just there, but Zurich’s Galerie Peter Kilchmann has struck the right balance with an installation by Teresa Margolles dedicated to the memory of her friend and collaborator Karla, a trans sex worker in Mexico. It is both moving and quietly beautiful. The exhibit includes an almost 8-foot-tall black-and-white photograph of Karla, propped up in the corner, a concrete stone from where she was killed, a facsimile of her death certificate (bearing her legal name Hilario Reyes Gallegos), and a sound piece by another trans sex worker, Ivon, recounting Karla’s brutal murder.
Karla was meant to join Margolles in Zurich for Manifesta 11, held in 2016. As part of the project, Karla was to play poker with a sex worker from Zurich while discussing the often-harsh realities of their profession. Karla was murdered in December 2015, before this could happen, in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico, a city which has seen a high rate of violent homicide perpetrated against women since the early 1990s. And so the Manifesta project became an intimate, elegant memorial to Karla, which has been restaged here.
In hearing Ivon’s slow, voice-cracking telling of Karla’s final moments, the work pays tribute to countless other trans women, particularly trans women of color, whose brutal murders are finally beginning to gain more widespread attention. Part of the narrative: “They went out for a walk and that is when he pushed her into the building. That is when he tortured her. He punched her, he stoned her, he destroyed her head. He destroyed her. I did not see her. They massacred her and tortured her. She died. She lost her life. I don’t know why they did it.”
In the crazed atmosphere that is an art fair, Margolles’s Karla, Hilario Reyes Gallegos becomes a corner for reflection, a place to see Karla.