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.
You will find bellow the presentation of my final project. Soon, I will update this post with an analytical essay that supports my proposal.
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.
During the decade of the 70’s and 80’s, Latin America had a period of conflict, military dictatorships, and clashes between left and right ending with: massacres, forced disappearance, forced displacement, sexual violence, homicides, genocide, torture, etc. Years after their processes of transition from war to peace and from dictatorship to democracy, the victims of these unfortunate events still struggle to make a memory, and not to leave in the past what happened, because even after 40 years of violence, people do not recognize what happened, because they consider it oblivious.
Latin America is in a struggle for collective memory and impunity resents its past; there are still difficulties to understand the complexity of the experiences, motivations and consequences of the repression experienced. One of the tools used for collective remembrance is art, art understood as a memory tool and denunciation against impunity, which has been used before, during and after the period of repression.
Those who make this art, I understand and analyze them in two different groups. The outsiders artists, who are committed to collective remembrance and denunciation of human rights violation, but who are not direct victims of repression and conflict; these artists, know well what happen in their country, they understand the suffering of their people, but have not experienced the conflict or the violence by first hand. On the other side are the insiders artists, in this case I understand them as the direct victims of the conflict and repression, who through the arts express not only a claim against what happened, but also their individual memory, which feeds the collective memory and reveals the truth that is being denied, a recognized example is the filmmaker Rithy Panh.
In this project I analyze the struggles for memory of local communities who have used art as a tool for collective remembrance. It is about knowing how victims of conflict expressed their specific stories and their particular views of the past. I pretend to analyze the resources chosen by the victims, how they intervene to bring attention into their project, and the kind of narratives they used: visual, theater, murals, photography, or painting.
The idea of this project is to change the view of art in the context of conflict. No one speaks of giving voice to the voiceless, is about hearing the voice of those we assume are voiceless. It is not about to show the pain of the victims through the art of others, instead is about the art made by victims who explains their own pain, their own memory.
Note: I’m not quite sure about this, but depending on the information that I find, it will be interesting to open a blog where people can find this kind of initiatives.
In the year 2005, Guatemala’s government records of the genocide in the country were accidentally discovered. It took extensive efforts from experts and the financial aid of foreign institutions to turn piles of filthy papers into a proper archive. In 2009, after decades of wandering in the dark, the archive opened its doors, with a policy of complete access to the public (unlike other similar archives in Latin America). Finally, Guatemalans affected –directly or not- by the violence between the decades of 1960 and 1990 would have the possibility of getting an answer to their questions.
Currently, the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN) “includes over 10 million scanned images of documents from the National Police Historical Archive. This digital archive mirrors and extends the physical archive that remains preserved in Guatemala as an important historical patrimony of the Guatemalan people.” (¶1)
One of the pages of the AHPN, from the Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive.
Now, for the purposes of this post, I want to refer to the material of this archive as “images”, and to focus particularly on the photographs that are part of this register, in order to revise their significance and to point out other considerations regarding their power.
Susan Sontag, in her book Regarding the Pain of Others, states that “…photographs help construct –and revise- our sense of a more distant past.” (p. 85). In the case of the AHPN this could not be more true: many of the images helped entire families to properly mourn and to give closure to a phase of horror in their lives. Just by being displayed, this photographic archive acknowledged an era of Guatemalan history that for many years was not addressed by the State.
Furthermore, this archive presents the opportunity to think more deeply about the limits between personal and collective memory. In regards to the latter, Sontag problematizes:
Photographs that everyone recognizes are now a constituent part of what society chooses to think about, or declares that it has chosen to think about. It calls these ideas ‘memories’, and that is, over the long run, a fiction. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as collective memory –part of the same family of spurious notions as collective guilt. But there is collective instruction. (p. 85)
But the images that conform the AHPN are not the images that everyone recognizes. These are the individual stories of thousands of victims, of many families. The archive already exists as a whole, but it also constructs itself as Guatemalans find their parents, siblings, and children in those records. This archive is within the limits of personal and collective memory. And that borderline is what most interests me.
There’s also a value in the combination of photographs and documents. Sontag alludes to the risks of reading a photograph as the (whole) Truth. She states that while we need photographs to remember, we need narratives to understand. This archive is a visual narrative of the Guatemalan genocide; therefore it is extremely invaluable for those who seek to comprehend this episode.
Now, it’s known that the metaphor is a very useful resource when talking about narratives. This is when art comes into play. In Luke Pizzato’s article The Language of Public Memory art is presented as an “alternative language that can generate more solidarity between the victimized communities and the general public” (p. 40). By saying that, they refer to the artistic work of Minga, a Colombian artistic institution that works hand in hand with communities affected by the violence. However, Pizzato’s reflection could also be applied to the work of many other artists that approach violence and memory in the Americas and the world.
Lets take for instance Ejercicio Volumen, from the Venezuelan artist Teresa Mulet: this piece is a testimony of the thousands of violent deaths that occur yearly in her country, which is my country as well. It is a book in which each page represents a victim. Its impossibility to stand up because of its weight also represents how the situation has become unbearable, and sometimes this kind of images can be more powerful that the very pictures of the victims.
Ejercicio Volumen, from Teresa Mulet. From Trafico Visual`s website.
This post is the very first exercise on discovering how images (photographs, scans, artistic installations) intertwined, can help to build our memory: a shared memory, which is not to say a collective memory (as a discourse of power, an imposed one), if that is ever possible.
Bonadies, Angela (2014). Teresa a través del espejo. Recovered in September 10, 2013, through the link: http://www.traficovisual.com/2014/04/06/teresa-a-traves-del-espejo-por-angela-bonadies/
Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive. Recovered in September 10, 2013, through the link: https://ahpn.lib.utexas.edu/home
Doyle, Kate (2010-2011). Guatemala`s Police Archives: Breaking the Stony Silence. Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. Volume 1.
Pizzato, Luke (2013). The Language of Public Memory: La Asociación Minga and The Authentic Image of the Victim. Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America. Volume 1.
Sontag, Susan (1993). Regarding the Pain of Others. United States. Picador.