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Symbols of Memory and Resistance

Forced disappearance was a violent practice, which flourished in Latin America during the seventies with the arrival of military dictatorships and armed conflict. This practice was used for different purposes according to the country. For example, in some countries of Latin America, the military used it as a repressive approach, in other countries it was the right way to lower homicide rates and maintain an attenuated war.

For a while the forced disappearance seemed to be the perfect crime within its perverse logic, there are no victims and therefore no perpetrators, as well as exposes Weld “a desaparecido is neither quite dead nor alive, simultaneously present and absent” (p.8)

The constant pain that this violent practice produced on the families of the victims, and the constant wondering of “where are they?” “what happen to them?” “Did they suffer?” “For how long did they suffer?” and the special case in Argentina where the mothers of Plaza de Mayo not only wonder about their children but also about their grandchildren. Have generated a very important and interesting artistic production, I remember seeing an exhibition in Colombia on the disappeared in Latin America one of the symbols created to portrait the disappeared in Argentina and then used in some countries of Latin America as a flag, was a graffiti of a bicycle that has a number in red in one of the tires which represents one of the 350 students of Universidad de Rosario disappeared during the military dictatorship.


But there were other artistic initiatives – or at least that I consider artistic- that comes from the people, looking for not only a symbol, but also to maintain the memory of what happened and a voice of resistance. One example of this kind of art are the Arpilleras. During the dictatorship in 1974, the catholic church opened a workshop to help women victims of the violence to produce carpets so they can have some financial income. These women started to transform those usual carpets into an instrument of public denunciation of social injustice and the violation of human rights, the movement spread to other cities and other countries around the world.


These two kinds of representation and symbolism, one coming from the Artilleras and one coming from Fernando Traverso a known artist from Argentina, makes me wonder if we can consider both art? and if they are both art which of them has has a broader meaning in the collective consciousness and memory?

Daniela Valero

I graduated with a degree in political science from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. There I worked as a social researcher for four years for projects related to historical memory, armed conflict, reconciliation and transitional justice at Cifras & Conceptos S.A. Additionally, provided support to the generation of proposals and projects related to the same topics, and the development of one of the chapters of the book Basta Ya, Colombia memorias de guerra y dignidad. (No More, Colombia memories of war and dignity), from the Colombian Historical Memory Group. During this period of time, I also made a short documentary, Nacho’s Path, that recieved a Honorable Mention in 2011 Waste pickers and Recyclers Project Social Documentary Competition, and was part of the official selection at the IX Festival Internacional de Cortometrajes y Escuelas de Cine El Espejo (IX International Festival of Short Films and Film School The Mirror).

One year ago I decided it was time for a change of scenery, so I move to New York and enrolled in the Certificate of Documentary Studies and later into the MA in Media Studies to learn how to make and use documentaries to uncover the stories that remain hidden in remote and conflicted places, and get people involved and aware of the reality.

Nelesi Rodriguez

I am a college professor, researcher, and creative producer. I am currently conducting my Masters degree in Media Studies at The New School, NYC. I collaborate with Bicimamis, a Venezuelan activist urban cycling collective that empowers Venezuela women in the usage of the bicycle as means of transportation. I was also part of Gritos Silentes, a movement that used the principles of performance to create alternative ways of protesting against violence in Venezuela. My research interests include new identities and aesthetics contemporary discourses.

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In favor of a shared memory

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

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.

Malak Abobakr

With my family, I spent most of my life in the diaspora. During my university days I was heavily engaged in the cultural activities. I was always passionate about promoting my country. Through coordinating cultural exhibitions and participating in a couple of plays (directing and acting) I found myself drawn into an area of arts that I had never considered before. Nonetheless I earned my BA in Public Administration, with a minor in International Relations at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE.

In my professional journey I was fortunate enough to work for International organizations namely Shell Oil Company and the *British Council.

After nearly 100 years of presence in Sudan, Shell divested as a result of how the country was portrayed in the International media. A pressure group in the US determined the fate of an investment legacy, leaving behind a large number of employees jobless, and tarnishing the face of foreign investment of Sudan.  Ironically, this incident coincided with the birth of a local network of private businesses that joined the **UN Global Compact. I became an active member in the secretariat, advocating and inviting members from the private sector to take part. To reflect the business environment of Sudan positively. I worked with colleagues in collecting success stories and the documentation of Corporate Social Responsibility projects that took place across the country. This experience revealed to me the value of communicating in different mediums. At the time I realized that Media practice was beyond “News outlets.” In fact I could see how media could act as a catalyst in addressing sincere issues of social justice in urban and rural societies defying mainstream stereotypes.

My work in the British Council exposed me to another level of understanding communication. Since the BC relies on tax payers’ cheques, the Chairman had to present evidence before the British parliament to justify budgets spent; confirming the mission and outreach of the BC in different communities. One of the effective and quick tools of engagement was through Social Media.

The above experiences and more opened up my eyes to appreciating the supremacy of media and the vital rule of communication. Through The New School, I aspire to engage in progressive conversations with faculty and colleagues. One of the elements of attraction to the program is that the curricula combines both theoretical and practical approaches, given my desire to upgrade my career, I feel it is time to arm myself with skills, knowledge and practice.

*The UK’s international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations. The BC is on the ground in six continents and over 100 countries, bringing international opportunity to life, every day.

** The UN Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principals in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. By doing so, business, as a primary driver of globalization, can help ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere

Bio: Sari

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.



Keeping the Memory Alive

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:



Bio: Zina

Of Bangladeshi origin, grew up in Singapore. Have spent time living in London and Cairo. Graduated in politics and development from SOAS in 2006, and have been working in media/ communications since then. I’ve played a variety of roles: print journalism (mostly magazines), tv production, PR and non-profit communications and advocacy. Food is an obsession; I used to run a supper club back in Singapore.

My area of focus: inter-cultural communications. I trained as an interfaith dialogue facilitator for awhile back in Singapore, which was rather life changing. This semester I’m taking a class in group facilitation, intervention and process and I am considering taking some classes at Columbia in conflict resolution. My focus at the New School has largely been along the lines of using media for social change, but particularly in inter-cultural scenarios, looking at race, migration, genocide, etc. 

I hope to be in a position someday, where I can combine my knowledge of media for social change and my skills as a facilitator/ mediator. I like wearing different hats, and I like combining these hats in projects 🙂 So, very excited about this class, especially knowing that what we do will go beyond the classroom. I graduate in December, so I won’t be able to take the spring continuation of this class, but I hope to stay involved somehow! 

Blog response to Readings: Revista Guatemala Legacies of Violence

I have to admit, when I first started reading, ‘Breaking the Silence’, where the writer details the effort put into documenting the genocide after uncovering government records, my first thought was, How futile this all seems. All this effort — in documenting and writing about an atrocity, and yet where was this expense of energy when the genocide was going on? I know there is an answer to this that’s obviously very rational, but it left me wondering, what’s the point? How does it erase what happened, or provide a feeling justice?

But reading further, I understood the important of war memories. In the case of Guatemala, the need to document and remember, is particularly urgent as the perpetuators have not been punished. Not only that — but it is used as an excuse, a reason to cite when describing Guatemala as having a ‘culture of violence’.

By attributing Guatemala’s experience to an ingrained culture of violence, “power continuity and structural inequality go undetected. Like all ‘post war crime’, socialized violence has been given room to fester because of conditions of impunity.”  (page 15) This for me was the most fascinating point.  By blaming the victim, you remove all responsibility from those in power and who continue to support a system that perpetuates violence and repression. (page 16)

This brought to my mind, the situation of African Americans in the U.S. To what extent can we related violence among African American communities today, to  a system that was borne of violence (slavery), and which today, continues to perpetuate violence? To what extent is the black population blamed for its ‘problems’? 

“Creating meaningful and sustainable peace requires critically confronting violent pasts” (page 16). To what extent has the US  TRULY confronted its slavery past? An incredible article worth reading: The Case for Reparations

In contrast, how much documentation and work has gone into remembering the Holocaust? Slogans of ‘Never again’, persecuting and blacklisting Holocaust-deniers, museum after museum, a perpetual victim mentality — but what have we as a human race learnt from this? Never again, and yet it happens again and again, and in the case of Israel, the victim has today become the bully. So what is the real value in remembering? What is the value of history, when we don’t learn from it?

Reading this also brings to mind the case of Rwanda. The way they have ‘dealt’ with the genocide has been through ‘forgiveness’ — today, genocide perpetrators live side by side with the people whose families they butchered. Have they truly confronted their past? And are people genuinely forgiving?  This series of photographs, entitled Portraits of Reconciliation, by Pieter Hugo is really interesting.  In my opinion, I do not see forgiveness. I see grudging acceptance. I’d love to look through these photos tomorrow with the class and discuss your thoughts on this.


A Panel Discussion in Conjunction w/ Exhibition Bearing Witness: Art and Resistance in Cold War Latin America

Please join the Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery and the Historical Memory Project (HMP) in welcoming a panel of scholars and artists to discuss the content of the exhibition, its sociohistorical context, and the significance of bearing witness. 

September 8, 2014, 6-8pm
at the Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery

at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

860 11th Avenue (New Building)
New York, New York 10019

Subways: ABCD1 to 59th Street-Columbus Circle

Our esteemed panelists:
  • Jeffrey Blustein, Arthur Zitrin Professor of Bioethics and Professor of Philosophy at City College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
  • Estrellita B. Brodsky, Independent Curator
  • Marcia Esparza, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at John Jay College, CUNY; Founder and Director of HMP
  • Cyriaco Lopes, Photographer; Professor of Photography at John Jay College, CUNY
  • Iván Navarro, Artist

Moderated by Lydia Shestopalova, Adjunct Faculty at Guttman Community College, CUNY; Assistant Director of HMP

The panel will be followed by a Q&A with the audience.

This meaningful event is the closing of HMP’s year-long photographic exhibit commemorating the 40th anniversary of the coup d’état in Chile, which took place on September 11, 1973. We celebrate this opportunity to mark the collaboration with visual and multimedia artists through the exhibit and through conversation. The exhibit bridges the power of photojournalism with artistic methods of bearing witness; the stimulating panel discussion will emphasize the importance of memory and put the exhibit in both historical context, as well as link it to the contemporary, political and social realities in Latin America and beyond.

This event is free and open to the public. ID is required to enter the building.
Light refreshments will be served.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Art and Music, John Jay College, CUNY.

For more information about Historical Memory Project (HMP) please visit website: www.historicalmemoryproject.com 

Closes September 12, 2014

While censorship, kidnapping, torture, and murder became common tactics for repressive governments throughout Latin America during the Cold War, many artists from the region responded by producing poignant works of art that speak out against these atrocities. This exhibition brings together three distinct bodies of work that do so through documentation, poetic subversion and revelation.

In 1972, Julio Le Parc, in collaboration with the artist group La Denuncia, produced a vividly explicit installation entitled La Tortura ( The Torture). The work exposed the secret detention and interrogation methods that took place during Brazil’s military dictatorship. Based on accounts by fellow artists and the Brazilian Friar Tito, La Tortura is comprised of seven panels, painted in a hyper-realistic style, depicting individuals undergoing torture.   La Tortura’s cell-like installation recalls such iconic works as Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War series, the journalistic photography of Carlos Marighella, and Christ’s martyrdom by Caravaggio, all of which denounce the consequences of human degradation and atrocities in the name of civilization.

In contrast to the brutally graphic quality of La Tortura, photographs by Juan Carlos Caceres and 
Rodrigo Rojas De Négri document public displays of power and protest in Chile during Pinochet’s military dictatorship in the1980’s.  These images demonstrate powerful moments in the prolonged struggle against state violence.  Caceres, by immersing himself within the local context, created images that allow us to witness the plight of Chileans under Pinochet’s regime.  De Négri, who returned from exile in 1986 to document and participate in the resistance movement, was killed by government forces at the age of 19.  He was subsequently honored as a member of the Association of Independent Photographers (AFI), for his important work which appears courtesy of his mother, Verónica De Négri.

Formed in Santiago de Chile in 1979, at the height of Augusto Pinochet’s brutal military regime, CADA (Colectivo de Acciones de Arte) was a short-lived artist and activist collective that included visual artists Lotty Rosenfeld and Juan Castillo, and writer Diamela Eltit, poet Raúl Zurita, and sociologist Fernando Balcells. Combining conceptual practices and effective agitprop tactics, the group developed a number of performances and urban interventions that challenged political repression and solicited viewers’ participation.

The video, The Missing Monument For Washington D.C. (2008) , by Chilean artist Iván Navarro offers yet another reaction to conditions in the region by responding to the killing of singer-songwriter Victor Jara in 1973. The touching video, features two men, one of whom is strumming a guitar while speaking the lyrics composed by the popular Chilean singer song-writer, Jara entitled “Estadio Chile?”.  Written in September 1973, while Jara was held captive in a stadium along with thousands of others, the poem was smuggled out by survivors. Jara himself was tortured and murdered, his body thrown in a mass grave.

Through the use of archival material, witness accounts and direct observation the artists represented in Bearing Witness offer both overt and subversive reactions to the history of political violence in cold war Latin America.  Their powerful works compel us to engage with the historical record of oppression in the region as well as the legacy of political violence as it continues to affect our lives today.

Curated by Roberto Visani, Estrellita B. Brodsky, Pierre-Yves Linot, with the assistance of Lydia Shestopalova.

Gallery Hours: 1-5pm, M-F, or by appointment
for further information please contact gallery@jjay.cuny.edu