Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas

A augmented reality monument to the missing women of Ciudad Juárez and the opium brides of Afghanistan

By John Craig Freeman and Christina Marin

Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas will premier at ManifestAR @ LA Re.Play, an Exhibition of Mobile Art in conjunction with Mobile Art: The Aesthetics of Mobile Network Culture in Placemaking during the College Arts Association Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, February 22-29, 2012.

Since 1993, hundreds of young women have been murdered and their bodies abandoned in vacant lots around Ciudad Juárez just over the border from El Paso. Many showed signs of sexual violence, torment, torture or in some cases disfigurement. Most of these women were migrant workers who traveled to Juárez from other parts of Mexico seeking employment at the nearby multinational maquiladoras. As Max Blumenthal wrote in his article for Solaon Day of the dead, dated December 4, 2002, “Free-trade advocates once promised that NAFTA would transform Juarez into the City of the Future — and they have been proven right in a way they never could have imagined.” To this day, most of these murders remain unsolved and the perpetrators unpunished.

Unfortunately, there are no statistics about how many girls have been traded for debt incurred from opium eradication policies in Afghanistan, but journalists and NGOs like the International Organization for Migration have documented instances of such transactions taking place across the country. Traditionally, the Afghan society is patriarchal in its nature, and women often are considered the property of men. The practice of using women and girls for dispute settlements has been a part of the Afghan society for centuries. Drug smugglers loan poor Afghan farmers money to plant opium. When the government destroys the crop as part of its opium eradication program, the farmers are still liable for the debt and are often forced to trade their daughters or face the threat of having the entire family murdered. The girls are then sold off as Opium Brides.

Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street is arguably the oldest theme park in existence. With its foundations in Old Town Los Angeles, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, Olvera Street was converted to a festive Mexican marketplace in the 1930’s, a full two decades before the founding of Disneyland. For over eighty years, Olvera Street has provided a safer alternative border experience for tourists. It is perfectly plausible that Walt Disney‘s ideas of transporting people to imaginary places for amusement were formed in part during his visits to Olvera Street and nearby Chinatown. “Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas” turns this border-themed virtual reality on its head by introducing very real contemporary border issues through augmented reality technology.

Built for smart phone mobile devices, “Monumento a las Mujeres Desaparecidas” creates a lasting monument to victims of feminicidios, female homicides, in Ciudad Juárez and the opium brides of Afghanistan. The public can simply download and launch a mobile application and aim their devices’ cameras at the top of Olvera Street and the surrounding plaza or La Placita. The application uses geolocation software to superimpose individual augments at precise GPS coordinates, enabling the public to see the objects integrated into the physical location as if they existed in the real world.



  • If you don’t have the free Layar Augmented Reality Browser installed, you will be prompted to do so (
  • Once Layar is installed, reading the code will launch the project.


John Craig Freeman is a public artist with over twenty years of experience using emergent technologies to produce large-scale public work at sites where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities. His work seeks to expand the notion of public by exploring how digital networked technology is transforming our sense of place. He has produced work and exhibited around the world including in Venice, Istanbul, Xi’an, Belfast, Los Angeles, Beijing, Zurich, New York City, Taipei, São Paulo, Warsaw, Kaliningrad, Miami, Bilbao, Havana, Atlanta, Calgary, Buffalo, Boston, Mexico City, London and San Francisco. In 1992 he was awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has had work commissioned by both and His work has been reviewed in The New York Times, El Pais, Liberation, Wired News, Artforum, Ten-8, Z Magazine, Afterimage, Photo Metro, New Art Examiner, Time, Harper’s and Der Spiegel. Christiane Paul cites Freeman’s work in her book Digital Art, Second Addition, as does Lucy Lippard in the Lure of the Local, and Margot Lovejoy in Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age. His writing has been published in Rhizomes, Leonardo, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Exposure. Freeman received a Bachelor of Art degree from the University of California, San Diego in 1986 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1990. He is currently an Associate Professor of New Media at Emerson College in Boston. Freeman writes, “If Andy Warhol set out to create a distinctly American art form in the twentieth century, I identify with those who seek to create a distinctly global art form in the twenty-first.”

Christina Marín served as an assistant professor of educational theater at New York University from 2005 to 2010, where she taught courses in Applied Theatre and Theatre of the Oppressed. Her primary research interests examine the intersection of theater as pedagogy and human rights education, as well as the use of Theatre of the Oppressed techniques as arts-based qualitative research methodologies. She has presented at the annual conferences of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the American Educational Research Association, the American Society for Theatre Research, the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, and Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed. Marín has also conducted workshops in Colombia, Ecuador, South Africa, Ireland, Singapore, and Mexico. Her professional theater directing experiences include the awardwinning productions of José Casas’ play 14, and Rubén Amavizca’s Las Mujeres de Juárez for Teatro Bravo in Phoenix, Arizona.

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