– Autumn/Winter 2010

Autumn/Winter 2010 - Autumn/Winter 2010

Events, Works, Exhibitions

Photographs and Silhouettes: Visual Politics in Argentina

Ana Longoni

Marcha de Máscaras (March of the Masks), April 1985, Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires. Photograph: Domingo Ocaranza Bouet

Marcha de Máscaras (March of the Masks), April 1985, Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires. Photograph: Domingo Ocaranza Bouet

'They wanted to be seen. It was an obsession. […] They realised that their own image as mothers was, in its own way, imposing a different reality.'1 This quote is taken from the comprehensive history of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an association of mothers that formed in 1977 to draw awareness to the disappearance of their sons and daughters during the Argentinian dictatorship of 1976-83.2 The excerpt, from a history of the movement by Ulises Gorini, makes explicit how crucial the visual dimension was to their strategy from the outset - that is, the production of symbols that would identify and unite the Mothers as a group, and at the same time grant them the visibility to appeal to other families whose relatives had also disappeared, to Argentinean society and to the international community. The quote also signals the distinct will and awareness that were put into play when it came to conceiving these symbolic resources of visibility. In the midst of the 'concentrationary' terror,3 during which the state's terrorism established nearly 500 repression and extermination centres, where about 30,000 people disappeared - and even before a collective name had been assumed for the group - the first Mothers recognised each other by carrying a carpenter's nail in their hand. Soon afterwards, they started wearing the white headscarves that became their emblem. Later, they started embroidering these headscarves with the names of their loved ones and the fateful dates of their disappearance.

Among the different creative strategies developed by the Mothers and other relatives within the human rights movement

  1. Ulises Gorini, La rebelión de las Madres, vol.1, Buenos Aires: Norma, 2006, p.117.

  2. This military dictatorship, which called itself the 'Process of National Reorganisation', carried out
    the selective killing of their political opponents.

  3. This is a direct translation of the term 'concentracionario', which Pilar Calveiro uses to refer to the
    paralysis that took hold of Argentinean society when state terrorism was activated, spreading its
    semi-clandestine activity well beyond the nearly five-hundred concentration camps where thousands
    of people disappeared. See Pilar Calveiro, Poder y desaparición, Buenos Aires: Colihue, 1997.

  4. In Ana Amado's words, 'the relatives of the victims of the genocidal dictatorship made use of creative
    forms of expression in their public interventions in order to combine agitation and denunciation
    of the crimes with intimate images of pain and the work of mourning'. Ana Amado, 'Órdenes de la
    memoria y desórdenes de la ficción', in A. Amado and Nora Domínguez, Lazos de familia, Buenos Aires:
    Paidós, 2004, p.43.

  5. Victoria Langland, 'Fotografía y memoria', in Elizabeth Jelin and Ana Longoni (ed.), Escrituras,
    imágenes y escenarios ante la represión, Madrid: Siglo XXI Editores, 2005, p.88.

  6. Jean-Louis Déotte, 'El arte en la época de la desaparición', in Nelly Richard (ed.), Políticas y estéticas
    de la memoria, Santiago de Chile: Cuarto Propio, 2006, p.156.

  7. See Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (trans. Richard Howard), New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.

  8. N. Richard, 'Imagen-recuerdo y borraduras', in N. Richard (ed.), Políticas y estéticas de la memoria,
    op. cit., p.166.

  9. Ibid., p.168.

  10. Nora de Cortiñas, a mother from the Plaza de Mayo recalls: 'When we first began carrying a photograph
    with a name on the marches, we found that lots of friends of our children came up to us, they were not
    even aware that they had disappeared. […] This is because their friends used nicknames to refer to them,
    so it was only when they saw the photograph with the real name that they found out. […] That's how
    they identified us, they knew then "that is the mother of such and such boy or girl".' Unpublished
    interview with Nora de Cortiñas by Cora Gamarnik, Buenos Aires, 2009.

  11. They were Santiago Mellibovsky and Matilde Saidler de Mellibovsky, whose daughter Graciela, a young
    economist, had disappeared in 1976.

  12. N. Richard, 'Imagen-recuerdo y borraduras', op. cit., p.168.

  13. 'De-individualisation is a feature both of legal photography and social repression.', Ibid., p.166.

  14. Ibid., p.167. Translator's note: The original uses the expression 'N.N.', as standing for the Latin
    Nomen nescio or 'name unknown'. In Latin America 'N.N.' is often used to refer to the nameless victims
    of dictatorial regimes.

  15. Ibid., pp.166-67.

  16. This paradoxical logic was present as well inside the Argentinean concentration camps, where they
    carried on systematically photographing the prisoners and registering their confessions in writing
    (confessions that had been obtained by torture) in spite of the fact that the camps were illegal
    and clandestine. One can get a sense of this from the handful of secret documents that escaped the
    destruction of the archives ordered by the dictatorship before it withdrew from power.

  17. Emilio Crenzel, 'Las fotografías del Nunca Más: Verdad y prueba jurídica de las desapariciones',
    in Claudia Feld and Jessica Stites Mor (ed.), El pasado que miramos, Buenos Aires: Paidós, 2009,

  18. Ludmila Catela, 'Lo invisible revelado: El uso de fotografías como (re)presentación de la desaparición
    de personas en Argentina', in C. Feld and J. Stites Mor (ed.), El pasado que miramos, op. cit., p.349.

  19. In Argentinean history, the augmentative suffix '-azo' is used to refer to a whole series of popular
    uprisings: the cordobazo, the rosariazo, the viborazo, the argentinazo, etc.

  20. This is the number given by the Mothers.

  21. Eduardo Grüner, 'La invisibilidad estratégica, o la redención política de los vivos: Violencia política y
    representación estética en el Siglo de las Desapariciones', in Ana Longoni and Gustavo Bruzzone (ed.),
    El Siluetazo, Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2008, p.285.

  22. Guillermo Kexel, Julio Flores and Rodolfo Aguerreberry, 'Propuesta presentada a las Madres de Plaza
    de Mayo', in A. Longoni and G. Bruzzone (ed.), El Siluetazo, op. cit., p.63.

  23. Carlos López Iglesias, interview with the group in A. Longoni and G. Bruzzone (ed.), El Siluetazo,
    op. cit., p.333.

  24. Quoted in Hernán Ameijeiras, 'A diez años del Siluetazo', in the journal La Maga, Buenos Aires,
    31 March 1993, in A. Longoni and G. Bruzzone (ed.), El Siluetazo, op. cit., p.189.

  25. C. López Iglesias, interview with the group, op. cit., p.309.

  26. Roberto Amigo Cerisola, 'Aparición con vida: Las siluetas de detenidos-desaparecidos', in A. Longoni and
    G. Bruzzone (ed.), El Siluetazo, op. cit., p. 275. See also his essay 'La Plaza de Mayo, Plaza de las Madres:
    Estética y lucha de clases en el espacio urbano', in Ciudad/Campo en las artes en Argentina y
    Latinoamérica, Buenos Aires: CAIA, 1991, pp.89-99.

  27. See Gustavo Buntinx, 'Desapariciones forzadas/resurrecciones míticas', Arte y Poder, Buenos Aires:
    CAIA, 1993, pp.236-55.

  28. The term 'appropriation' is used by Fernando Bedoya y Emei in 'Madres de Plaza de Mayo: Un espacio
    alternativo para los artistas plásticos', in A. Longoni and G. Bruzzone (ed.), El Siluetazo, op. cit.,

  29. See R. Amigo Cerisola, 'Aparición con vida', op. cit., p.265.

  30. Anonymous, Paz y Justicia Bulletin, September 1983.

  31. The expectation that some of the disappeared might still be alive began to evaporate as time went by,
    with the discovery of mass graves with the No Names and the increasing number of testimonies from
    the very few survivors about the cruelty of the extermination procedures. Pilar Calveiro has reflected
    on the social difficulty of taking on board the dreadful truth the survivors revealed: they did not speak
    of the disappeared, but of the dead, of bodies that had been systematically devastated. See P. Calveiro,
    Poder y desaparición, op. cit.

  32. R. Amigo Cerisola, 'Aparición con vida', op. cit., p.203.

  33. G. Buntinx, 'Desapariciones forzadas/resurrecciones míticas', op. cit., p.253.

  34. E. Grüner, 'La invisibilidad estratégica', op. cit., p.285.

  35. F. Bedoya y Emei, 'Madres de Plaza de Mayo', op. cit., p.149ff.

  36. G. Buntinx, 'Desapariciones forzadas/resurrecciones míticas', op. cit., p.253.

  37. E. Grüner, 'La invisibilidad estratégica', op. cit., p.285.

  38. 38 G. Buntinx, 'Desapariciones forzadas/resurrecciones míticas', op. cit., p.253.

  39. In order to avoid using the term 'art actions', Roberto Amigo proposed that the Siluetazo and other
    similar strategies could be called 'aesthetic actions of political praxis'. R. Amigo Cerisola, 'Aparición
    con vida', op. cit., p.203. The artist León Ferrari used similar arguments: 'the Siluetazo [was a]
    masterwork, formidable, not just politically, but also aesthetically. Several elements were at play:
    it was an idea proposed by some artists, but developed by a multitude that carried it out without any
    artistic intention. We were not coming together to do a performance, not at all. We were not representing
    anything. This was a work that everyone felt, whose material was inside the people. It was irrelevant
    whether it was art or not.' Unpublished interview with León Ferrari, Buenos Aires, 24 May 2005.

  40. This is a term proposed by Juan Carlos Marín in Los hechos armados, Buenos Aires: Ediciones PICASO/
    La Rosa Blindada, 2003.

  41. This socialisation of the production of the imaginary is allied to the notion of 'post-avant-garde',
    as used by Brian Holmes in reference to contemporary versions of artistic activism: 'I am not interested
    in avant-garde movements, but in post-avant-garde ones; these are movements that are diffused,
    allowing a large number of people to take part in the construction and dissemination of images and
    new languages.' Quoted in 'Entrevista colectiva a Brian Holmes', ramona. revista de artes visuales,
    no.55, October 2005, p.9.

  42. This reflection derives from a text I wrote in collaboration with Jaime Vindel, 'Fuera de categoría:
    La política del arte en los márgenes de su historia', Tercer Texto: Conceptualismos del Sur: Antagonismos
    desde el arte y nuevas formas de la política en América Latina entre los 60 y los 80, no.4 (ed. Miguel A. López
    and A. Longoni), 2010.

  43. Estela Schindel, 'Siluetas, rostros, escraches: Memoria y performance alrededor del movimiento de
    derechos humanos', in A. Longoni and G. Bruzzone (ed.), El Siluetazo, op. cit., p.411.

  44. Instead, they proposed the opposite strategy: 'to unmask the disappeared so that everyone knows
    who they are, to disseminate their goals and struggles'. U. Gorini, La rebelión de las Madres, op. cit.,
    vol.2, p.386.

  45. Ibid., p.385.

  46. Ibid., p.387. Italics the author's.

  47. L. Catela, 'Lo invisible revelado', op. cit., p.341.

  48. These debates eventually led to the division of the Mothers into two groups in 1986, the Asociación
    Madres de Plaza de Mayo and the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Línea Fundadora.

  49. Interview with Hebe de Bonafini by Graciela Di Marco and Alejandra Brener in Nathalie Lebon and
    Elizabeth Maier, De lo privado a lo público: 30 años de la lucha ciudadana de las mujeres en América Latina,
    Madrid: Siglo XXI Editores, 2006, n.p.