Tag Archives: Guatemala

Black Banana: Exhibitions of Absence

 

Black Banana: Exhibitions of Absence – the paper

by Novel ‘Idea’ Sholars  and  Maira Nolasco                          

PDF:blackbananaExhibitionsofAbsencepaperdraft2

Introduction

Black Banana is the examination of structural racism in art curation and it’s effects on descendants of Africa living in Latin America. Acting as a metaphor, it sheds light on the absence of those of the African Diaspora in the workforce, and as a part of the overall Latin American cultural project. What are the histories of these erasures, and how does this history prove the existence of a racist hegemony that results in cultural exclusion? When did the whitening of Latin America begin and how does this whitening affect the economy of the black populations as well as their integration into Latin American society? Is the lack of Black Latino representation proof of racist curatorial practices in the Latin American contemporary art world? These are the questions this project hopes to explore. The Black Banana focus is to create awareness around the possible denial of racism and how that denial effects who and what is curated. Ultimately the goal is to provoke an open dialog about identity, hybridity, and access. Continue reading Black Banana: Exhibitions of Absence

FINAL – Black Banana: Exhibitions of Absence – the paper

Introduction

  Black Banana is a brief examination of structural racism in art curation and it’s effects on descendants of Africa living in Latin America. Acting as a metaphor, it sheds light on the absence of those of the African Diaspora in the workforce, and as a part of the overall Latin American cultural project. What are the histories of these erasures, and how does this history prove the existence of a racist hegemony that results in cultural exclusion? When did the whitening of Latin America begin and how does this whitening affect the economy of the black populations as well as their integration into Latin American society? Ultimately, is the lack of Black Latino representation proof of racist curatorial practices in the Latin American contemporary art world? The Black Banana focus is to create awareness around the possible denial of racism and how that denial effects who and what is curated. Ultimately the goal is to provoke an open dialog about identity, hybridity, and access. 

PDF below

blackbananaexhibitionsofabsencethepaperbynovelsholars

THE MURALS IN GUATEMALA AS MEMORY AND RESISTANCE

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.

NEWSCHOOL_DVALERO_MURALS GUATEMALA

Update on My Research

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.

Project Proposal: Psychosocial Look at the Guatemalan Society

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:

  1. How to reinvent an identity after a long history of repression?
  2. What are best practices to heal the society?
  3. The outlook on the psychosocial of the society with the history of state-sponsored violence and the healing.
  4. 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.

“Dignity has no nationality” and “Can you hear me?” under the same Sun

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.”

DignityHasNoNationality

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.”

CanYouHearMe

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.

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)

LLILASConciliation_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.