This topic came two weeks ago, after a good discussion with Nitin and Julian and my curiosity on the use of images on handling the issue of enforced disappearance from the point of view of a Guatemalan artist. After research, I realized that enforced disappearance is one of many techniques used by the military dictatorship to kill their own citizens. The main thing still remains: people were died so horribly and no justice has been done ever since. What the government did (and still does) is institutionalizing forgetfulness. So, the thing that has to be done is how to keep the historical memory alive, and not forgotten. Daniel Salazar’s work has been instrumental in keeping the memory alive. Through his Angels, he has a specific way to employ what he called a ‘guerilla art,’ an artistic and political approach and a visual intervention in public places in Guatemala that took the Guatemalan residents by surprise, that asked them to always remember and that proves to us all how art can be powerful in making a political statement.
For quite a while I chose the topic of enforced disappearance with focus on the psychosocial aspect of Guatemala. Within this focus, I already contacted my source, a Guatemalan activist who also happens to be a director of de La Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental. Since it hasn’t come into a fruitful result yet, I moved on to a new topic starting last week, thanks to a good discussion with Nitin and Julian. My new topic is now: Visual Intervention with focus on the work of Daniel Hernández-Salazar’s Angels in public places. The plan is interviewing him while also investigating and learning about his particular techniques in intervening public places. I actually also had a plan to interview and investigate the technique that HIJOS employed in their project, Empapaladas. However, my lack of knowledge in Spanish language becomes my disadvantage since many literatures about this is in Spanish so my focus now is in Daniel’s work.
On the project:
Daniela has helped me translate my email into Spanish to the person I’d like to interview (Marco, the director of La Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental, Guatemala) and I have sent it again to Marco. Still no reply, I have asked Pablo (P Jose Ramirez) to help me with this since it turned out Marco is his Facebook friend, although Pablo doesn’t know him. I do hope that it will turn out well and I will wait until next week for Marco’s answer. If there’s still no result, I will continue by researching on the data of the Enforced Disappearance in Latin America in general and use this to explore (I haven’t decided yet in what way –> historically or performatively or poetically) the representation and the bodies of the disappeared. I plan to title it “Missing Persons.”
Currently happened in relation with this topic:
Furthermore, what has happened to 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa, Mexico just a month ago is a terrible truth that shows how the practice of forced disappearance is still employed in Latin America as a tactic of political repression.
1. Link For Thursday Workshop:
Below is the link of an article that describes the reality of Guatemala, and the US foreign policy in Guatemala. It describes briefly and chronologically the early history of Guatemala, its connection with the U.S including the CIA and the exploitative neocolonialism through banana monopolization (which reminds me of the art that I saw in our Guggenheim field trip and Jessica Kaire’s Such is Life in the Tropics).
2. Update on Project Investigation:
The topic that I’d like to focus is still about enforced disappearance that I have previously posted on our blog. The person who I’d like to interview still hasn’t replied to me yet and just tonight I found out why: because he cannot speak English. I’m concerned about this since I can’t speak Spanish and I think that he is really good to be interviewed and then we can relate him to HIJOS’ proposal. His work is mentioned in the conference of Advocacy for Legislation Against Enforced Disappearances here (read the part where he works as the director, The Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental).
Below are some articles and reports about human rights violations (enforced disappearance included) in Guatemala and other Latin America’s countries:
Since the beginning of the class, I have been interested in choosing topics that has to do with my personal background; an Indonesian not knowing what was happening in the country’s darkened past, not knowing the real history and only knew the propaganda version of history from the military regime of the New Order. When I started to know the real history, it has been a painful experience for me. Since then, I’ve been in the process of “brainwash reversal.” And that’s why the topics like historical consciousness, historical memory, and the healing of the society are very important for me. I’m fascinated by the effort to preserve the memory of the tragic history through art as well as the healing of it.
And that is also why four questions below are what come to my mind in relation to the topics I’m interested to delve above:
- How to reinvent an identity after a long history of repression?
- What are best practices to heal the society?
- The outlook on the psychosocial of the society with the history of state-sponsored violence and the healing.
- How to start a dialogue
As we are all aware, dialogue can build a sense of community and unity after such a repression from the state. One of the gross human right’s violations that happened in Guatemala is the enforced disappearance. When it happened, the society was and is still divided into two: those who agree with what the state had done with the reason that it’s “necessary”, it’s for “the greater good” of the country; and those who disagree (the victims, the human rights defenders, the people who know that it’s human rights violation). What makes it more difficult is : there’s always someone or some people in the top positions or high ranking officials who were involved in state violence, hence, the law impunity. This is, to me at least, how art can be an entry point in making the dialog possible.
This is also the reason why I found Tania Bruguera’s term – as I have also mentioned in my previous blog post – “useful art” compelling. Useful art is a medium that proposes solutions to social and political problems through the direct implementation of art in people’s lives.
So, in this project, I would like to interview someone who is Guatemalan, an activist, a writer, and deals with the advocacy against enforced disappearance.
His name is Marco Antonio Garavito Fernandez. He’s from Purulja, Baja Verapas, Guatemala. He works as director of de La Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental. He studied psychology. He just shared his experience about practices in advocacy against enforced disappearances in a conference in Manila, Philippine at the Asian Federation Againts Involuntary Disappearances.
With his background, it would be interesting to look at the psychosocial reality of Guatemalan society. My plan in to interview him about this and ask him to share with us his experience. I will record this interview and put it as a 10-minute video. I’m going to need some help with what questions should I ask that’s going to be aligned with our Spring exhibition.
His background and experience seem really connected with one submission from Flor de Maria Calderon of HIJOS ((Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio), with title: Memoria Territorio en Disputa. HIJOS is an organization with activists formed by children of the disappeared. Their proposal for Guatemala Despues stated that:
It is an opportunity to systematize our artistic practices by not only producing works that rescue historical memory, but by reflecting on the content and impact of our work and measuring it transformative potential…. This has been our battle against oblivion. It not only keeps their memories alive, but it also keeps their/our hopes for a better Guatemala, their dreams, our utopias, alive as well.
They will use dialog to edify a sense of community. They will gather opinions about what people think of their ‘Empapeladas’ (=photographs of the disappeared, tortured, executed by the military during the war against the revolution, and have them glued onto walls in public places in an effort to bring their faces to the streets).
I think if we can connect him with HIJOS project, it would be great. He could work together with HIJOS in presenting their work through a psychosocial lens, for instance. Or, they can be involved together in the gathering opinions of HIJOS’s Empapeladas and get an insight that can be beneficial both from the perspective of advocacy against the enforced disappearance and from the perspective of the children of the disappeared. Both perspectives would be a useful input that can be used to answer questions about the reinvention of a lost identity, best practice to heal society, a new outlook in building and healing of the society, and it can open more chances for dialog across Guatemalan communities.
Having a field trip last week at the Guggenheim, I remember one of the performance arts displayed in the museum. The title is Tatlin’s Whisper created by Tania Bruguera, a politically motivated performance artist from Cuba.
Tatlin’s Whisper (2009), was created for the 10th Havana Biennial. I quote the information she provided for the audience and can be found on her website as well:
“Bruguera constructed a raised podium in the central courtyard of the Wifredo Lam Center, distributed 200 disposable cameras, and invited audience members to step up to the microphone to exercise freedom of speech for one minute each. This call tapped into deep emotions in a country that has repressed free speech for over fifty years and where the consequences of self-expression can be grave. During the performance, each speaker was flanked by two individuals dressed in military fatigues who placed a white dove on his or her shoulder, evoking the moment in 1959 when a dove alighted on Fidel Castro during a famous speech. A variety of anti- and some pro-revolutionary voices were heard, a woman wept, and a young man said he never felt so free. Nearly forty people spoke in all. Their calls for freedom echoed for an hour, after which time the artist ended the performance by stepping up to the podium and thanking the Cuban people.”
I found her work compelling since it has an element of public engagement. There’s an involvement by the public using art. In Tatlin’s Whisper, the artist provided a public platform for the audience to speak out against censorship. For audiences who live in a place where a totalitarian regime is in power, public engagement in art can be a useful forum socially and politically.
I remember Jessica Kaire’s performance art – that’s also has an element of public participation – using fruits and humor about how to make homemade weapons for self-defense in Guatemala in Such is Life in the Tropics. It is a performance recorded in a video and looks like a normal instruction video but it contains a deeper meaning and political message: a protest of exploitative neocolonialism that has been done by an American corporation (United Fruit Company, or Chiquita). Jessica also held some workshops involving people to make the homemade weapons themselves (at the Guggenheim, there’s the Del Monte banana – with the same message of exploitative neocolonialism – displayed in the exhibition but without the element of public engagement).
I like the term that Bruguera coined, “useful art” to call a medium that proposes solutions to social and political problems through the direct implementation of art in people’s lives. Seeing how the public engagements in art turn out in the lives of the society is always interesting and that is why I am interested to delve more on the engagement of public in art especially in the case of Guatemala, a country that has been repressed for 36 years. I would like to know if it is commonplace or even a priority to consider for Guatemalan artists particularly for the purpose of artistic awakening as well as for the healing of the society itself. What drives these performances the most to convey a message? Is it the mobility, the intensity, the humor, the interaction or the combination of all?
When reading Anabella Acevedo’s Art and the Postwar Generation, I also found how the postwar generation in Guatemala is familiar with the art that involves public engagements using public space. Javier del Cid did this in 2000 on Day of the Martyrs. Blue October, a month-long street festival in October 2000, gave a chance for emerging artistic work to participate. The youth arts collective, Caja Ludica organizes art workshops and carnival parades in villages affected by the war. The artistic awakening has spread and it can be useful as a medium of expression for the younger generation. Although their art is considered as a kind of art that only seeks attention and instant fame without clear ideological stance, what they have done is effective in triggering the public dialog. The dialog is an obvious and important step towards the healing of the repressed society. This, again, is one more interesting point to investigate the practice of contemporary art in Guatemala that uses the element of public engagement.***
Since working as a broadcaster in a radio station when I was still in college, and then witnessed how most media in my country were used to spread the propaganda of the authoritarian regime, I decided to switch my original plan to become a teacher into a plan to be involved fully in media world, refusing to be continuously brainwashed. I then worked in print media and TV as a journalist. The nature of media that can be a tool to convey messages is the thing that I find to be always fascinating. It is often instrumental in shaping people’s opinions and social and political awareness. That is why I’m so interested in taking this class. Particular focus in my work is promoting awareness of women’s issues, treatment of minorities, and citizen’s rights.
I hope by studying in The New School, I will have the expertise in media making and use it to tell stories that can raise people’s awareness socially and politically.
As someone who grew up in a country with a dark history of violence that until now has not been acknowledged by the government, I know how important it is to keep the memory and the truth behind it alive. When reading some chapters in Revista: Memory, In Search of History and Democracy, I can imagine the pain and agony of the family of those who disappeared and never came back. It is a daunting task to keep searching the truth tirelessly that happened in the land they’re living when “so little even nothing to be found” is something that they would often get.
One particular thing I’m interested to find out more is the family of the disappeared, especially the mothers and their hopes to see their disappeared children alive or if it’s impossible: the hopes to find their bodies.
In Because They Were Taken Alive, a mother keeps the light in a single garage on for almost thirty years because she wants her son (who never returned home since the day of the abduction) to know that his family never gave up on him. Those aging women who comb the Atacama Desert in “Nostalgia for the Light” to find the bone fragments of their relatives only have hope to keep doing what they do. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo keep marching in front of Argentina’s presidential palace demanding the safe return of their disappeared children. It becomes their act of resistance. Their perseverance to find out what’s been taken from them is an act of refusing to forget, their way of keeping the memory alive.
Why focus on the mothers? Because all mothers in the world would feel the same if their children gone, especially when it’s caused by the killing, or forced disappearance. Mothers symbolize universality, while also being personal. When it comes to their children, they cannot be politicized but what they are able to do about it can often be political.
Art can be an effective tool to build the solidarity around the world toward the victimized community, toward the mothers. After all, what happened in Guatemala, or Chile, also happened in other countries like Indonesia.
I’m interested to dig more about the art in relation to the mothers of the disappeared. How art becomes – for a certain degree – an effective intermediary tool to help them get the sense of closure? How a solidarity is built through art? Using art effectively, we can help address and amplify the issue of injustice.
Here’s a link to the video showing an art performance from Indonesia that I think is successful to keep the memory alive and the conversation going. It was about the genocide that happened in Indonesia in 1965. Until now it is not an easy topic to talk to and people usually shy away from it. It was performed here in NYC two years ago: