Memory initiatives have served several purposes: to recover the memory of what happened and make public denunciations, dignity and honor the memory of the victims, promote community organization and social reconstruction, inform and educate new generations, and to demand redress and justice. This paper focus on Guatemalan murals as a memory initiative and as an art form used by the direct victims of the conflict.
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.
the first step is to deal with the denial.
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.
Under the Same Sun was the name of the most recent Guggenheim exhibition that explored the scope of Contemporary Art in Latin America. “Under the same Sun” also seems a very appropriate phrase to use in the title of an article that analyses the work of two artists from the lower part of the continent and the influence that the local-global binomial have had in their work.
Tania Bruguera is a Cuban contemporary artist, mostly focused on performance and conceptual art. At present time, she works between Chicago and La Havana.
Jessica Kaire is a Guatemalan contemporary artist, mostly focused on performance and conceptual art. At present time, she works between New York and Guatemala.
There is no need to point out the obvious similarities, but by looking closely at Bruguera’s and Kaire’s work -specifically at Dignity has no nationality and Can you hear me? respectively- an interesting dialogue between their discourses can be appreciated. Let’s just start by describing both pieces:
Dignity has no nationality is a public project (a collective performance?) that challenges the idea of nationality and borders. Guggenheim’s website describes Bruguera’s proposal:
“The artist and her collaborators will be stationed outside the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to gather signatures on postcards addressed to Pope Francis. Referring to Vatican City as a place that was “born as a conceptual nation without borders,” these cards request that the Pope grant citizenship to all immigrants as a concrete gesture of support and protection. Members of the public who are unable to visit the museum may also contribute their signatures online at dignityhasnonationality.org.”
On the other hand, Can you hear me? was a series of performances and their respective video-record, in which Jessica Kaire recreates identical settings in both sides of Skype conversations she held with Guatemalan friends and family while being in New York. In her website, the Guatemalan artist explains her project as follows: “This low-tech project is an exploration of the dissolving of boundaries through new technologies. It also presents an opportunity to alter our spacial and temporal awareness.”
Image courtesy of Jessica Kaire’s website
After this brief introduction, we can start digging deeper on these projects similarities and specificities.
First, let’s go over what these artists share: Both were born in countries with a rough political history and a significant diaspora (which somehow they are part from), both are currently based in the U.S., globalization and its influence on identity are part of both personal quest, and both embrace technological and social practices’ languages and aesthetics (petition signing and Skype conversations) to create their pieces.
As there is some common ground between both pieces, there are also differences on the way they approach to the subject matter (understood as the intersection between identity, migration, and globalization). Dignity has no Nationality tries to detach identity from its geographical and national constrains. Can you hear me? explores the role of geographical distance in preserving identity, which in this case is not necessarily a national or geographical one, but one that builds up from personal, intimate relationships.
One could say these are variations on the same theme, but while Tania’s proposes a political approach, Jessica’s offers a more ludic one. The former poses again Debord’s and Benjamin’s questions about the role of art and its possibility to promote change. The latter puts those questions aside (at least in this particular piece) and focuses on the experience, on the now.
Bruguera’s and Kaire’s selected pieces ignite several reflections regarding the nature of art, its purposes, its formats, its environment. One thing is certain; a blog post is not enough to express the understanding one can get from posing both pieces “under the same Sun”.