If one woman is murdered, it makes the local news.

If a dozen women are murdered in the same town, it makes the national news.

Now, imagine hundreds and hundreds of women murdered in cold blood, in or near the same town.

It is happening, and close by our border, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. Perhaps you've heard about it. Perhaps you haven't.

The mysterious murders of hundreds of women in Juárez is the theme of "Ni Una Más (Not One More): The Juárez Murders," a free exhibition opening Saturday at Drexel University's Leonard Pearlstein Gallery.

Since about 1993, between 200 and 800 women have been raped and murdered; accurate numbers are impossible to obtain due to bureaucratic coverups and incompetence. The bodies of the women (mostly young, many of them recent arrivals seeking work in the region's maquiladoras, or assembly plants) turn up in rubbish heaps, by highways, or half-buried in the surrounding desert.

Are the killings connected with the savage narcoterrorism wars that have claimed thousands of victims in northern Mexico? Officials don't know. But because they are one-on-one, and involve women, many experts see psychopaths at work. Mexican and U.S. authorities (involved because a few of the dead were Americans) have proved impotent; the occasional arrest has done nothing to stem the murderous tide.

Part art show, part protest, "Ni Una Más" features work by artists including Yoko Ono, Kiki Smith, Lise Bjørne Linnert of Norway, Irish activist painter Brian Maguire, and local artists Arlene Love and Jen Blazina.

Trustee Abbie Dean says the show "takes art as a way to change the world - art as activism, as social engagement."

In that spirit, "Ni Una Más" will begin with "ARTMARCH," a mass-demonstration performance-art piece organized by Drexel and Amnesty International. Hundreds of Drexel students, male and female, wearing pink T-shirts to symbolize solidarity with the victims, are expected to gather Saturday at 2 p.m. at the 33d Street Armory and make their way to the gallery. The public is invited to join the march.

"Ni Una Más" inaugurates the relocated and enlarged Pearlstein Gallery at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design. Dean says the exhibition was a Drexel idea: "We reached out to other galleries and artists, some who already had done Juárez-related art, some - like Yoko Ono, who made her piece Heal - specially for this exhibition."

A wall at the gallery entrance bears names of hundreds of victims, along with pink memorial crosses, like those that now dot the desert around Juárez. On another wall is Arne Svenson's Unspeaking Likeness, close-up photos of "forensic busts" - clay likenesses of victims used by law enforcement in solving murders. The eyes are in sharp focus, the rest of the faces softer.

Claudia DeMonte's painting Our Lady of Juárez recalls Our Lady of Guadalupe: A folk art-style sacred female figure poses in a egg-yolk yellow field surrounded by red, pink and white flowers. Little cards, like Mexican milagros or devotional cards, are scattered at her feet.

In Celia Alvarez Muñoz's Fibra Furia (Fiber Fury), an empty dress hangs in space, wreathed with tinsel, moss, fronds, almost as if discovered in the dirt. Nearby, empty cutoff jeans hang, a red and white slash of sequins down the front zipper. Gallery director Orlando Pelliccia comments that the empty clothes "suggest passages and stages of a woman's life - a woman who is absent."

Maya Goded's Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for Our Daughters) consists of saturated-color photos of victims' families and memorials. Alice Leora Briggs' Abecedario de Juárez (Juarez Alphabet) features alphabet blocks, each with its own image of violence, recalling Francisco Goya's Disasters of War.

In Linnert's installation, Desconocida: Unknown, an 8-by-30-foot wall is covered with 3,950 nametags embroidered by 1,000 people from around the world. Tags in colored thread bear victims' names; tags in white bear the word unknown in the embroiderers' native languages.

Also exhibiting is Philadelphia sculptor Frank Bender. He is a self-taught forensic artist, and his astonishing gift - for reconstructing the faces of crime victims, or of long-sought fugitives and how they might look now - made him the subject of Ted Botha's 2008 book, The Girl With the Crooked Nose. The title refers to a Bender forensic bust of a Juárez victim.

Bender recounts the day in 1975 a friend invited him to observe an autopsy: "I'd been taking a night course in painting at the Academy of the Fine Arts. I went to the morgue, and I saw one unrecognizable body, a woman with a bullet wound in her skull, and I said, 'I know what she looked like.' I knew nothing about forensics and very little about sculpture, but I sculpted the face for them." Five months later, the woman was identified.

Since then, he has helped solve murders and catch criminals. He has made Juárez his personal cause, working undercover, skirting police and bureaucracy, sometimes smuggling his busts back over the border.

"I call the whole situation incompetence by design," he says. The recent death of his wife, Jan, from lung cancer - Bender himself is now battling mesothelioma - "makes me even angrier, because nothing is moving the way it should in Juárez. The police and the government share no information because they are afraid for their lives." A Bender bust appears in "Ni Una Más," as do his watercolors of scenes in and around Juárez.

A short documentary video on Bender will run as part of "Ni Una Más." Rebecca Abboud, a Drexel graduate student in television management, says that when she got to know him, "I admired how he was fighting so hard for women, so I decided to do a documentary about him."

Abboud says, "I'll be part of the march. I want to show my faith. All we hear in the news is that there's 'trouble at the border,' about 'immigrants coming to take our jobs.' We don't see that one reason there's trouble is that so many mothers and sisters and daughters and wives are being murdered. We shouldn't keep pretending it doesn't affect us."

Caitlin Sherman, a Drexel junior majoring in public relations, learned of the exhibition when she applied for a work-study position at the gallery. She says she was "shocked" to find out about the Juárez murders.

"College students are big on being activists and knowing what happens in the world," she says, "but I'd never heard about them, and few of my friends had either." She plans to march Saturday: "I really do think art can change the world. It can appeal to all sorts of people in many different ways, yet still convey its message. The gender of the victims is not as important as that it's happening, no one has been caught, and everyone has to know about this."

Also marching will be Lonnie Snyder, a senior mechanical engineer who is part of the campus group One in Four, which educates students on issues of rape and sexual assault. "So many women have trusted me with their stories of rape and sexual assault, from high school to university," he says, "that I wanted to do something to help prevent future attacks."

Andrea Marshall writes in one of her artworks: "This painting is not about pain and suffering but about the hope to evolve and let go." Despite the images of violence and loss in "Ni Una Más," her words echo the exhibit's clearest note - one of hope and rebuilding. Thus, Yoko Ono has donated thousands of white buttons with one of her signature single-word art happenings:

"Heal."