Saturday, April 07, 2007  

The disappeared have voices I

An untitled piece by Colombian artist Juan Manuel Echavarría.
~Courtesy of the Museo del barrio

They are images that shred the heart, memories that lacerate the soul. And, if one is an American who has been paying attention, there is a furtive little voice that says, as one stands before their awful beauty- Thank god, it's not me. I don't know if I could survive this. But, deep down, you know you would, somehow, because you would have to do what these artists are doing: witness and give voice to the desaparacidos- the desaparacidos of Latin America- victims of another time, another war, and another American policy that collaborated with the banality of evil to visit these things upon them.
And, then you remember- there are desaparacidos now- only we don't call them that - and it is their governments which are cooperating with the banality of evil which is our government meant to render them as such. And, perhaps, you may wonder- what art will their children produce to commemorate their calvary?

There may have been a more moving show of contemporary political art in the city this season than “The Disappeared” at El Museo del Barrio, but if so, I missed it. The title refers to a peculiarly chilling form of violence associated with political upheavals in Latin America over the last 40 years, one that is now becoming more common in Iraq.

A man leaves for work one morning, but doesn’t come home at the end of the day, or later that night, or the next day. A week passes. Relatives suspect that the missing man, who may or may not have had risky political ties, has been arrested or kidnapped. But they don’t know by whom, or where he’s been taken, or if he’s alive or dead.

He’s one of the disappeared, “los desaparecidos,” the victim of terrorism through stealth removal. A death permits mourning, assignment of blame, a possibility of closure. Disappearance generates uncertainty, paralyzes action, leaves an open wound. If I say nothing, a survivor thinks, maybe my husband, or child, or mother, or wife will be spared, even returned. If I inquire or accuse, I may seal their fate. As often as not, fear wins out.

The 15 artists in the show are all from Latin American countries that experienced totalitarian regimes in the late 20th century, when almost every family had friends who disappeared or were themselves forced into hiding or exile. Directly or indirectly, their art is about these experiences.
(Review by Holland CotterNYT)

“The Disappeared” (“Los Desaparecidos”) continues through June 17 at El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue, at 104th Street, East Harlem; (212) 831-7272,

If you do nothing else in New York, go see this show.

I remember reading about incidences like this when I was a teenager in Holland. It is awful to wonder for ever what has happened to your loved one, as you said, not having any closure ever..
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