The Significance of Numbers, 43: Cuarenta y Tres.
This post was written by our rare books cataloger, Stephen Dingler.
The Significance of Numbers
by Stephen Dingler
Many people have emotional or superstitious attachments to numbers; for example, thirteen is widely viewed as an unlucky number, whereas many think of seven as a lucky number. The number 43 has had particular significance for many people in Mexico for almost two years now. In late September 2014 a group of student teachers commandeered several buses in the town of Iguala, Guerrero State, so that they could attend a rally in Mexico City scheduled to take place on the 26th. Forty-three of the male students disappeared. It was widely reported locally and internationally that the mayor of Iguala and his wife, angry that a planned local event had been disrupted by the students, ordered police to round them up and hand them over to a drug gang. The gang mistook the students for members of a rival gang, killed them, and burned their bodies at a garbage dump. The incident shocked the country, but many people questioned the government’s explanation has to how and why the students went missing.
This event is the subject of a recent UTSA Libraries’ Special Collections acquisition, the artist’s book, 43 : cuarenta y tres, by Lorena Velázquez. The use of the number 43 is not restricted to the title in Ms. Velázquez’s work. Forty-three numbered copies of the book were made; the book, constructed in concertina (accordion) style, has 43 unnumbered pages; the numbers from one to 43 are printed across several pages; on one page the number 43 is produced in braille. There is little text but the book artist’s use of photographs showing demonstrations and rallies, as well as portrait photographs of the 43 missing, convey a sense of outrage and a demand for justice. The book’s pages are colored black, with most splashed or streaked with red paint, which further conveys a sense of horror and tragedy at what happened. On one page, the names of the 43 students are printed. One of the names is highlighted because the remains of this one student have been found, with near certainty.
Under pressure from the families of the missing students, the Mexican government invited a panel of foreign experts, commissioned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to undertake an independent investigation. The experts released a 608-page report on April 24th, 2016. They found no evidence that the students had been burned at a garbage dump, as the government had said. There were also many other details of the official version of events that the foreign investigators could not substantiate. The panel of experts has not been invited to continue its investigation. Almost two years after the event took place, the public still does not know what really happened. This is no comfort to the families and friends of the 43 student teachers who went missing.
Lorena Velázquez’s 43 is one of a growing collection of artists’ books held by our Special Collections. What exactly is an artist’s book? It is “a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of ‘book’ as inspiration…What truly makes an artist’s book is the artist’s intent”. For Lorena Velázquez, the disappearance of 43 student teachers and the ensuing public reaction served as inspiration for her work. For Malini Gupta, using the medium of an artist’s book was a way for her to make public for the first time something very personal, in her work, The fortune teller. In addition to acquiring artists’ books such as these of national and regional interest, Special Collections has also been making an effort to acquire artists’ books and broadsides produced collaboratively by local authors and the Southwest School of Art here in San Antonio.
As mentioned earlier, 43 numbered copies of Lorena Velázquez’s artist’s book were published. So, what number is our Special Collections’ copy? … Thirteen.
“Murder in Mexico : the great mystery.” The Economist 419, no. 8987 (2016): 32-33.
 Anne Evenhaugen, “What is an Artist’s Book?” Unbound (blog), Smithsonian Institution, June 01, 2012, http://blog.library.si.edu/2012/06/what-is-an-artists-book/