An offering for my friend Belén
“Sostengo su imagen: Belén 1987-2016”, a project by Karen Toro, is an exercise in memory based on the repetition of the last photo she took of her friend Belén before she died a violent death in femicide. By Marcela Vallejo
On July 6, 2016, photographer Karen Toro received a message from a friend telling her that there was a “strange publication” on the Facebook wall of Belén Peralta, a friend of both of them. The text asked to contact Belén’s family as she had suffered “an accident.” Karen called the number in the post and identified herself as a close friend. The person on the other end of the phone told her that something serious had happened to Belén and Matías, her partner. He was in the hospital. She had not survived.
Karen didn’t understand what that person told her; it was only a few days later that she could assimilate the news better. “A guy had entered Matías’ house at dawn, kicked open the door, and shot straight at Belén,” she recalls. “Four hits for her and two for him. Nothing else. He just walked in, shot, and left.”
Three months after her friend’s death, Karen Toro found in the middle of some recently developed photos an image of Belén. She appeared almost like a ghost: the portrait “had little light, was shaky and with a lot of noise, but I recognized her immediately,” says the artist. Karen did not remember that image, although she could place the date with some precision: perhaps a summer in late 2015 or early 2016. Karen recalled that she took it one day when she went out with Belén and her partner to buy land. Then they went to a plaza to sit and have a drink. Later, he took the photo—the only one from that day.
“That photograph of Belén almost escaped me. Today, I understand it as a foreshadowing image, and I hold it again and again so as not to let it escape anymore”. From the encounter with that image and the memory exercise that followed, Karen Toro developed the project «Sostengo su imagen: Belén 1987-2016.» An attempt to remember by repeating the last photo she took of her friend before she died violently in a femicide.
At one point in her mourning, Toro was encouraged to watch the video the security cameras recorded at the crime scene. In the recordings, a noise is heard, probably gunshots. In about 30 seconds, a man is walking, accelerating his pace and leaving the frame. His accomplice was waiting for him in a nearby car; the order was to kill a woman who lived in the neighboring house. The assassins took a wrong turn. In the chronicle accompanying the project, the photographer states that “for them, it didn’t matter who it was, they were looking for a woman, and it was Belén whom they found.”
With the gesture of repeating the image of Belén, Toro searches for clues, explores ways to heal, and above all, not forget. Karen has added photographs of objects that belonged to Belén or that, to some extent, speak of her death. “In the insistent exploration of this image, I try to make her appear, to make her present again,” says the photographer. “I invoke her and make her an offering.”