Saturday, April 11, 2009

"The Disappeared" still haunt us

Nothing prepares you for the exhibition currently at the University of Wyoming Art Museum.

"The Disappeared/Los Desaparecidos" brings together the work of 26 living artists from Latin America who, over the course of the last 30 years, made art about those who have disappeared.

I viewed the exhibit last week when I was in Laramie for the UW Art Museum's public art symposium.

The largest of the works shows a Guatemalan flag made from the exhumed bones of those killed during the country's dirty wars, which really were Cold War proxy battles between the U.S. and Soviet Union. Many of Latin America's killer thugs were military men trained at the U.S. Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Not all, of course. Paramilitary bands roved Guatemala and Argentina and El Salvador and Uruguay. They operated with the sometimes explicit -- and always implicit -- consent of the ruling juntas.

One of the most depressing works of the exhibit shows couples who were disappeared. Their crimes? Subversive activities. Belonging to student activist groups. Consorting with suspicious characters. Complaining about the government. Some couples were married and some weren't. The women were pregnant and they and their babies still are missing. The legend under the pictures read: "Baby was born on or about April 5, 1979" or "Baby thought to be due in December 1977." The mother was bayoneted or thrown from a chopper or beat to death while pregnant. Or the baby was born but never seen again. Neither was the mother and -- oftentimes -- the father. These were young couples who looked a lot like couples I knew when I was in my twenties in the 1970s. They looked like pictures I have of my wife and I. Happy. Together. But we're alive and they aren't.

"Exhumations: Appearing the Disappeared - Uncovering Repressive Archives in the Recovery of Historical Memory in Latin America" will be the topic discussed by Kate Doyle at the next Art Talk hosted by the UW Art Museum. Her presentation is set for Monday, April 13, 7 p.m. Doyle is a Senior Analyst for the National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Her talk will focus on uncovering the truth of military actions in Latin America during the mid-20th century, and the people who disappeared as a result.

Art Museum Director Susan Moldenhauer notes, "This talk comes at an historical moment in time, given the current news regarding the conviction of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for crimes related to the death squads in that country." Doyle considers Fujimori’s conviction to be a landmark event. She states, "He is the first democratically elected president to be convicted of human rights crimes by his own country... in the world! Ever!"

The National Security Archive campaigns for the citizen’s right to know, investigates U.S. national security and foreign policy, and uses the Freedom of Information Act to obtain and publish declassified U.S. documents. Doyle directs several research projects on U.S. policy in Latin America for the Archive, including the Mexico Project, which aims to obtain the declassification of U.S. and Mexican government documents on the Mexican dirty war, and the Guatemala Project. Since 1992, she has worked with truth commissions in Latin America, including in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to obtain records from secret U.S. government archives in support of their human rights investigations.

Doyle’s public talk is in conjunction with the UW Art Museum’s current exhibition The Disappeared/Los Desaparecidos exhibit. Doyle will also be giving a Gallery Walk Through of the exhibition from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Monday, April 13 at the Art Museum.

FMI: UW Art Museum at (307) 766-6622 or visit
or the museum’s blog,

The museum is open Monday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Interesting to see that the exhibit originated with the North Dakota Museum of Art. N.D. poet Thomas McGrath would be proud.

Exhibit photo: Fernando Traverso from Rosario, Argentina, made a wall of silk "tombstones" emblazoned with the ghost image of a bicycle, one for each of his fellow resistance workers disappeared during those dark years of dictatorship. Why the bicycle? Because if someone went missing their abandoned bicycle served as early evidence of their fate. Entitled "In Memory, 2000-2001," the work consists of 29 silk banners, each 10 x 3.5 ft. with screened images of bicycles. Courtesy of the North Dakota Museum of Art.

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