‘Disappeared’ Not Forgotten

Museum of the Americas Showcases a New Exhibit

Posted November 20, 2008 at 4:57pm

The memories of the tens of thousands of “disappeared” Latin Americans have made their way to Washington.

A new exhibit at the Art Museum of the Americas commemorates the experience of those who were kidnapped, tortured and killed by their own countrymen during periods of military dictatorship in Latin America.

Organized by the North Dakota Museum of Art and curated by Founding Director Laurel Reuter, “The Disappeared” has been traveling the globe for more than two years. It opened in D.C. on Wednesday.

The exhibition incorporates pieces by prominent artists from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Uruguay and Venezuela, including 13 visual artists and a collaborative work by 13 others. Many of the pieces were inspired by personal experience or the experiences of their countries as a whole.

Marcelo Brodsky, for example, used an enlarged photograph of his high school class in Argentina to symbolize the experience of his community.

After spending years in Spain, Brodsky returned home to find that many of his peers had been plagued by tragedy. The artist scrawled descriptions of what happened to his 32 classmates next to their images on the class photo, writing “VIVE” (“alive”) across the chests of those who are still living.

Thirteen students, including himself, have circles around their heads to show that they were exiled, while two of those 13 also have slashes across their faces, symbolizing that they disappeared.

Similarly, Luis Camnitzer left Montevideo, Uruguay, in the early 1960s and was horrified to learn two decades later that many of his childhood companions had been kidnapped and tortured or had disappeared. As a sign of solidarity with his generation, Camnitzer created 35 etchings exploring torture using tools from his house.

“The thing he was interested in was the space between the tortured and the torturer,” notes Reuter, who is also the director of the North Dakota Museum of Art.

On display separately at the Organization of American States, the collaborative work “Identity” is filled with enlarged snapshots of couples who disappeared in Argentina and left children behind. The artists placed a mirror between each couple to represent their missing child and posted facts about the child’s fate.

When the work premiered in Buenos Aires, the artists hoped that visitors might see their image in a mirror, read the facts and realize that they are a couple’s missing child, reuniting families. During the opening, three missing children were uncovered.

The main museum exhibit also includes more abstract pieces that symbolize the plight of the disappeared.

Argentinian artist Fernando Traverso displays a block of 350 photographs, each showing a building with an image of a bicycle stenciled on the side of it. Traverso, who was part of the resistance movement, spray-painted the images on buildings across his graffitied hometown in memory of the disappeared.

He chose the bicycle image because finding a friend’s abandoned bike was often the first sign that he or she had been kidnapped.

“The Disappeared” will be on display at the Art Museum of the Americas through Jan. 25.

The museum is located at 201 18th St. NW, near the World War II Memorial and it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is free.

“Identity” is on display separately in the Terrace Level Gallery of the OAS at 1889 F St. NW.