Author Archives: Demetria

Holiday gifts II: Artist/activist Ai Weiwei

The moment I laid eyes on Ai Weiwei’s installation Forever Bicycles at the Fundación Proa in the La Boca neighborhood, I was captivated. I had to make a visit to see the entire exhibit “Inoculación” and learn about this contemporary Chinese artist and activist through his work and later through online videos and articles. A big fan of bicycles and bicycling, as well as using multiple representations of objects, I was instantly attracted to his art-making and also to his activism and how his activism IS his art.

The exhibit itself includes examples of his video work, installations, collaborative projects, wallpapers, and sculptures.  In addition to Forever Bicycles  which begs the viewer to take one’s own views of the playful structure as I did here:img_3669.jpg

The exhibit at Próa, entitled “Inoculación” is a good overview of some of his best know installations.

Bicycles Forever (a popular brand in China) was first exhibited in Taipei in 2003. Of it Weiwei said:

The bicycle is one of the few objects every household had when I was growing up I. China. Society then was very poor. To have a bike was a luxury. Forever bicycles were the best brand at the time. Every family had a Forever bicycle, it would be the most admirable for the rest of the children, they would even run after the bicycle.

Since I started doing architecture and teaching students how to build, I use the bicycle to teach them they can build with any material, not just bricks and concrete. (excerpt describing artwork on building exterior)

Each installation of Forever Bicycles is a unique design. The one used in Buenos Aires is composed of 1254 bicycles.

A second well-known installation on display here fills the entire floor of one gallery. It is known simply as Sunflower Seeds. The work contains more than 100 million individually handmade and handprinted porcelain sunflower seeds created by more than 1600 people living in Jingdezhan (the porcelain capital in China) over a two-and-a-half year period. The seeds are not only nourishing as well as a common street snack in China, but the Chinese people themselves have been called sunflowers who looked obediently at the sun (Mao’s way of referring to himself). Imagine: each seed is made and painted by hand! And each is unique.

Sunflower SeedsWeiwei is definitely unique himself. The son of a well-known Revolutionary poet who was exiled to hard labor for 20 years during the Cultural Revolution, Weiwei left China to study art in the US, and returned there ten years later, once his father was restored to his rightful place as a respected poet, writer, and cultural icon.

Artist, architect, sculptor, activist for human rights and against communist repression,

Aj_Wej-wej_I_(2017)Weiwei has spoken about many subjects and has been described as “pioneering in his art and fearless in his politics,” according to a 2005 BBC documentary (available on YouTube). One wall in the exhibit is filled with some of his sayings.

On freedom and liberty he says:

Freedom is our right to question everything. 

To express oneself one needs a reason, but expression itself is the reason.

On art and being an artist:

Art has to do with aesthetics, with morality, with our belief in humanity. Without that, there is simply no art.

Being an artist is a mindset, a way of seeing things; it no longer has much to do with producing something.

On refugees and the crisis of immigration:

This problem has a long history, a human story. Somehow we all are refugees, somewhere at some time.

Nationality and borders are barriers to our intelligence, our imagination and all kinds of possibilities.

I especially enjoyed being able to take photos of the various installed works in the show, such as these two. The first is “Grapes” and uses centuries-old wooden stools reassembled by artisans into this sculpture:Grapes

The other more obviously explores one of Weiwei’s chosen themes or issues, this time immigration into a wallpaper of passengers’ luggage tags:Slide5

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Weiwei doesn’t hold back.  Banned by the Chinese government for the freedom of expression he has given voice to, Weiwei is sometimes brutally direct, as in this commentary not foreign to anyone in any language. Giving the finger is, well, giving the finger!

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There are some powerful videos included in the exhibit. One shows Weiwei smashing a priceless Ming vase, commenting obviously on its past value and commenting on what he thinks about that value. A more powerful, sad video is one that tells the story of the 2010 art studio Weiwei received permission to build by the Shanghai government, only to be told (as it was being completed!) it was NOT permitted by the very same government who subsequently and swiftly demolished the architectural studio/classroom/exhibit space.  Whether banished from the internet in China, put in prison and silenced, or creating and exhibiting his art in collaboration with the hundreds of workers he employs to assist in turning his conceptions into actual objects, Weiwei lets his art and his actions voice his deepest beliefs in freedom and human rights.

Check out the web for videos by and about Ai Weiwei.

Happy holidays two!

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Filed under Art Exhibitions, bilingual American guide, Buenos Aires, Fundacíon Próa, Museums in Buenos Aires, Travel in Argentina

Holiday Gifts: Miró

Holiday Gifts 2017

What kinds of gifts can I send to my family and friends in the U.S. while I enjoy the summer warmth in the southern hemisphere? The gift of art—no, not art books, but the actual art on exhibit right now in Buenos Aires. It seems that all my favorite museums here are hosting shows by artists I enjoy and am learning more about all the time. Rather than running around Chicago or online in search of Christmas gifts and traditional holiday foods to prepare, I am spending the week before Christmas visiting the museum shows that are my gift to you, my dear reader, this holiday season.

The venues are numerous. My favorites include the Museum of Latin American Art known as MALBA, the Museum Proa in the LaBoca neighborhood, the Fortabat Museum in Puerto Madero, and various special exhibitions at the Buenos Aires Fine Arts Museum. This holiday season in particular seems to offer the viewer the opportunity to see an exceptional array of works by Frieda Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Remedios Varo, among others in an exhibition of Mexican Art in MALBA, an exhibit entitled Argentina, Colombia, Mexico which includes works from Diego Rivera, Antonio Berni, Fernando Botero, Frida Kahlo (at Museo Fortabat). In LaBoca at the Foundation Próa  is exhibiting the works of Chinese artist Al WeiWei. And the list goes on and on!

Belles Artes, the National Museum of Fine Arts, a short walk from my apartment, houses more than 20,000 works of art, and its website offers this quick overview of 50 of the collection’s highlights here: https://www.bellasartes.gob.ar/en/the-collection-highlights. Go slowly, there is so much to enjoy here.

Most recently Bellas Artes wooed me, this time with its current exhibition Miró: la experiencia de mirar [Miró: The Experience of Looking]. The exhibit (through Feb. 25, 2018) includes fifty works—paintings and sculptures–by the Catalan artist Joan Miró (1893-1983) I’ve always enjoyed Miro’s playfulness and use of line and color and these paintings did not disappoint. But more impressive for me were the series of bronze sculptures included in the show. Cast in bronze are a series of bird-woman sculptures evoking Miro’s nature/culture representation.

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It wouldn’t be a recognizable show of Miro’s work without his familiar colors, simple lines and symbols captured in paint, and, true to the exhibit’s title, his works offer us the chance to look at bird and woman in paint and clay, transferred as it were from one medium to the other.

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Happy holidays!

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Filed under Art Exhibitions, Buenos Aires, Fortabat Museum, Fundacíon Próa, MALBA, Museums in Buenos Aires

Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos “The space for memory and human rights”. Part 1.

Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos

“The space for memory and human rights”

Ex ESMA (Naval School of Mechanics)The space of Memory, Truth and Justice

My visit to the “museum” began as I entered the building. Faces of the victims fill the windows and glass walls that welcome you to the Officials House, a former site of both the Argentine Naval School of Mechanics and, beginning in 1977, one of the more than 600 clandestine detention centers the military dictatorship created as concentration, torture and extermination centers during Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship from 1976-1983.

Fifteen buildings occupy the 42-acre property renamed the Space for Memory and Human Rights, known as ex ESMA. ESMA was the Spanish abbreviation for the former base of operations and living space for the officials who worked in this detention center, one of more than 600 detention centers located throughout Argentina. No wonder our bus driver corrected me when I indicated we wanted to exit the bus at ESMA. “EX ESMA?” he asked. “Si.” The space it formerly occupied no longer exists. It is undoubtedly EX ESMA now. I stand corrected.

So far I have visited four of the fifteen buildings so far: the “Casino de Oficiales”; the Casa por la Identidad; 30,000 Compañeros Presentes, and the Harold Conti Cultural Center. IMG_2882

Throughout the site appear various photographic, story panels that show some of those who were disappeared, telling the story of their short lives. Each records the dates of their entries into and disappearances from the ESMA detention center.

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Hand-painted portraits of political activists from those years through today appear on the exterior walls of some buildings, like this one of Milagro Sala, a political organizer in NW Argentina who was imprisoned in January 2016 for her beliefs and work on behalf of the people who live in the Tupac Amaru community.IMG_2922

Other buildings on the 42-acre property are vacant, some are being used for educational, artistic, research, film, music, theatre photography, workshops, guided visits for schools, seminars and debates, programs for young children and many educational and cultural events—a place where the power of art is transformative! In the following posts, I write about visiting three other buildings/exhibits on the property: the Harold Conti Cultural Center; 30,000 Compañeros Presente; and the Casa de la Identidad.

Espacio Memoria

In the actual detention and torture center, the former Casino de Oficiales, I toured the building with a Spanish-speaking guide. I wandered alone throughout the rest of the buildings and around the property itself. Except for 2 or 3 text explanations in English all of the text panels and printed materials are exclusively available in Spanish. And while it is true that a photograph is worth a thousand words, the words of those who survived this horrible place with its horrible activities, it is especially poignant to read from their memories. It is possible to arrange for a tour of this space and the property in general—in English, but I didn’t do so. With English speakers, however, I recommend an English-speaking guide so you don’t miss the moving testimonies of the survivors.

Much of what is known and spoke about in this space is based on survivors’ testimonies and various historical documents. Large video screens display interview excerpts with many survivors. The building, now empty, except for the display panels and multiple video screens it is stark and quiet. But not always. Not then. Then the torturers blared rock music throughout the detention center, though it rarely muffled the sounds emanating from the rooms where the detainees were kept. As if loud hard rock music could block out the screams from the men and women being questioned and tortured, while the capucho or hood blocked their faces from their captors and from each other.

 

The building tour took us to the military and prisoners’ housing spaces, bathroom, torture centers, and birthing center. Yes, this was where pregnant prisoners “dieron luz”, that is, where the women gave birth to their babies, and then lost their own lives as well as their newborns’. This space and its macabre reality struck me as very very powerful, and left me more than ready for the beautiful testimonies to the families of the disappeared children I saw on display in the Casa de la Identidad.

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How was it possible that children were born in this place?

INSIDE THE DETENTION CENTER

The Capucha

The principal space where the prisoners were kept was known as the “Capucha” (literally, the hood). Each small cubicle had a bed on the floor. Those detained had their hands and feet tied and each wore a hood or silk mask that covered their faces/eyes. Prisoners here weren’t known by their names, but by their numbers.

Some prisoners remained here for hours, days, or months, while others were kept here for years. Every Wednesday the guards would call a group of prisoners by their numbers. They were made to form a line and descend two flights of stairs down to the basement where they would be “transferred.”

Entryway to ESMA memorial site

Looking out from the former detention center

The basement

The basement was used for torturing and eliminating victims It was the first place where those abducted were taken to and gathered to be killed. Torture was the main activity of the center. Prisoners were taken their after arriveal, where they were interrogated. Officers wanted information from them aboth other political activisits. Also located here was the Infirmary where prisoners were kept alive after their torture and where the military gave prisoners sedatives for their “traslado” once it was determined that they would die. Here, wrote Alberto Girondo, “Torture happened practically every day and when I was in the infirmary I could hear perfectly well the screams of those being tortured, in spite of the music played to ‘cover up’ their screams and the voices of the torturers who also screamed very loudly to demand information from the prisoners.

IMG_2774  Los Traslados

The euphemism for death. “Traslado” (transfers) was what the military called the disappearance of those imprisoned here. Their prinicipal method of exterminating prisoners here consisted in rounding them up alive, drugging, stripping and dropping them from airplanes into the sea or the Rio de la Plata. This method was later known as the “death squad.”

Pieza de las Embarazadas

The registries show that more than 30 pregnant women were sent to ESMA, even though it is believed that the number is actually larger. A number of the children born here would be returned to their families (after 1983) thanks to the work of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. These women did and continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the children of those disappeared.

After the mothers were separated from their newborn children, their jailers would make them write a letter with the child’s details. They assured the mothers that they would get these letters to the families where their children would be sent. But it wasn’t so. A few days after giving birth most of the women were assassinated and their babies given away. There is only one exception to this. The son of Elizabeth Patricia Marcuzzo, who she named Sebastian, born on APRIL 15, 1978, is the ONLY child who was ever reunited with his biological family, in part because his mother Elizabeth’s letter actually did reach Sebastian’s new family.

A small photo appears in an exhibit focusing on the perpetrators of the crimes against the people. It shows the official Héctor Febrés, in charge of the clandestine efforts that took place here, where more than 30 children were given away. Febrés, the only one implicated during the first trial of those responsible died in his cell after taking cyanide pills only a few hours after being sentenced, in December of 2007.IMG_2915

Los Baños

It was in the bathrooms that those abducted by the Navy Intelligence Service were able to communicate with one another. If not actually speak, at least they could look at one another in the mirrors of those bathrooms. IMG_2767As a result, survivors identified many of the disappeared and their testimonies were part of the main evidence provided in the court trials afterwards.

Condemned

The last stop on our tour was a long, rectangular room with floor to ceiling windows separated by cement columns. It was completely empty, except for the 16 slide projectors overhead that projected onto all the walls photographs and histories of the military officials responsible for the disappeared at ESMA during these painful years. How moved I was to reach the end of this horrific slide show, to read the word Condenados and see the sentences meted out by Argentine courts to the torturers. Then. And now.

 Continue on to read Part Two: Espacio de Memoria y Derechos Humanos, Casa de la Identidad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under bilingual American guide, Buenos Aires, Dirty War, Golpe Militar, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Los desaparecidos, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, The disappeared, Visiting Mendoza

La Casa de la Identidad at EX ESMA

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Identity. Family. Freedom. This child’s drawing welcomes visitors to the Casa de la Identidad, the space devoted to the amazing work the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of the Disappeared) have been doing throughout the past 40 years since the “Golpe Militar” to return babies disappeared during the dirty war years 1976-83 to their families of origin. At its start in 1977 the (then) Mothers took to the Plaza de Mayo where they marched in silence in front of the government house the Casa Rosada (Pink House).  IMG_2738

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Even today, forty years later, a core group of the Abuelas still march around the Plaza every Thursday afternoon at 3:30pm. They vow to continue their search until every one of these children are returned to their original identities, their original families. To date 119 children have recovered their true identities.

Room after room is dedicated to this important work the grandmothers have done. Some rooms display photos of families whose infants were stolen from their mothers shortly after birth and given away to the military and its friends.

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To recuperate identity is to realize that before you were not free.

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Their birth mothers remain disappeared, likely victims of the “vuelos de la muerto” (death flights) where they were drugged, made to undress, and thrown from airplanes into the Rio de la Plata or the sea.

Other rooms highlight the various cultural work that goes on to help these children to uncover their true identities. Groups like the Identity Theatre present their work and contribute to the grandmothers’ searching. Popular musical artists give benefits to thank the Grandmothers for their hard work, and professional sports teams and individual athletes have spoken on their behalf. Their focus: find the children!

In the final room of the Casa de la Identidad I discovered a large, 12-panel comic strip directed at young children who may visit this place.  The first panel has a small boy asking “Who are the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo?” and the answer appears alongside it.  IMG_2917

In the final drawing in the series the same child asks “Have they found them all?” Again, the answer appears alongside: The Grandmothers have found more than 100 children (a sign at the entryway indicates 119 children have recovered their identities, thanks to the Grandmothers’ efforts.) But the search for all of the children continues on. IMG_2918

Two graphic posters in particular struck me as very powerful and engaging. In one the viewer is asked:  “Do you know who you are?”  In the other, those who suspect they might be a child of one of those disappeared is advised to contact the Grandmothers for help.  Answering this question is easier now, thanks to the work of the Grandmothers and the Casa de la Identidad.IMG_2900

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“If you have doubts about your identity or you think you are the child of one of the disappeared, call us”.

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A day away: Visiting San Antonio de Areco

IMG_1740San Antonio de Areco, along the banks of the Areco River, is an easy day trip from the city of Buenos Aires. It is just 70 miles northwest by car, so visiting San Antonio is a pleasant way to trade the frenzy of the city for the laid-back atmosphere of the Argentine countryside and this lovely little town. Home to many estancias it is an easy place to get to, relax in and explore on foot to enjoy its natural and man-made beauty and treasures.IMG_1778

There are lots of places to see gauchos in Argentina. Among them is the lovely, laid back town of San Antonio de Areco, located 70 miles northwest of the city of Buenos Aires. You can pay an agency $150/US for a day trip there to a private estancia (ranch), where you will see ranchers at work, enjoy local music, eat an authentic asado (barbecue) and take a stroll around these private estancias.

Or, you can rent a car with a GPS and drive to the town yourself and have the freedom to wander as you like. That’s what we did when my sister Josephine and her friend Jane visited from Chicago in March. Estrella, a Uruguayan friend who lives in Buenos Aires, joined us for our “día del campo” road trip.

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A 1-1/2hr. car ride brought us to the quiet, pretty central plaza where free parking was ample and a good starting point to enjoy the colonial architecture and relaxing atmosphere of the town. Among its highlights are the Museu Gauchesco and the Parque Ricardo Guiraldes, the Culture Centre Usina Vieja, the Town Museum and the Old Bridge.

A walk along the Puente Viejo (old bridge) takes you to the Gaucho Museum and the adjoining Pulperia de Blanqueada, once an old grocery store located alongside the museum, where in years past, the local gauchos shopped for their supplies. One part of the museum campus houses a local artesan who dyes wool with natural dyes, spins it herselfand makes beautiful blankets, carrying on the traditional methods that were followed during the 19th century. She enjoyed teaching us about the dyes, the weaving methods and the traditions carried down from her teacher’s teacher to her and so on.

Local artesans’ shops and cafes lined the old section of town. The town museum houses the newly initiated artesan’s cooperative where women artesans display and sell their crafts. A walk in the adjacent Ricardo Guiraldes Park, offers views of old farming equipment alongside flowering trees of the park, including a wide variety of birds from the La Pampa region, and huge cactus plants filled with the edible, deep red prickly pear fruit. We especially appreciated the colorful entrance to the city museum, webbed by interlocking, colored plastic cables and stays that appeared to form a sort of webbing that drew you inside.

A relaxed lunch at a parrilla restaurant along the river was the perfect spot to enjoy  IMG_1766

an asado, drink a beverage or two and take in the local scenery before heading back to the car, and eventually back to the busy city of Buenos Aires. While we never really saw any gauchos, we certainly enjoyed the outdoor beauty of the town where many have lived and armed over the past centuries.

For a day of greenery and relaxation, head to San Antonio de Areco!

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Filed under bilingual American guide, Buenos Aires, Estancias, Travel in Argentina

Turning 25 in Buenos Aires

thumb_FullSizeRender_1024.jpgNoooo, not me. My blog. I’ve reached a milestone 25 posts on seebuenosaires.com since I started it five years ago. This post, #26, is really an index of the titles of each of my previous posts. I’ve written them to share my experiences, impressions and photos. Now in 2016 with almost 4,000 reader views I’m still finding new things I want to share. So far I’ve written about — well, go ahead, click, read, enjoy–and come visit to seebuenosaires for yourself!

Holy, holy, holy

On politics in Argentina: Without freedom of speech there is no democracy

Parque de la Memoria

Come along and walk with me if you like what you see: Morning walks in Buenos Aires

Viva Jujuy!

argentina image

La Vida Salteña

In red and white: walking against injustice

Your special Buenos Aires tour: the same and not the same

Carnaval 2014, Montevideo, Uruguay

Visit Buenos Aires in 2014

Buenos Aires and Iguazú Falls

Buenos Aires Street Art Graffitti

From Ice to Fire: Visiting Tierra del Fuego

Visiting Argentina’s glaciers

January, 2013 from my southern home

Museum Afternoons

Visiting Mendoza: Argentina’s wine country

People to meet, places to go, food to eat
Welcoming 2012 in Buenos Aires

November

Cycling in Buenos Aires

Bienvenido a mi querida Buenos Aires

On language, culture and friendship

Tango Energy

See Buenos Aires with me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under bilingual American guide, Buenos Aires, MALBA, Montevideo, Mothers of the Disappeared, Museums in Buenos Aires, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, Politics, public art murals, Recoleta Cemetery, Religious buildings, Street Art, The disappeared, Travel in Argentina, Ushuaia, Visiting Jujuy, Visiting Mendoza, Visiting Salta the Beautiful, Visiting Uruguay

Holy, holy, holy

Thanks to friends who asked me what I knew about Jews in Buenos Aires, in 2015 I began to learn more about the various cultural groups and religious faiths  here. First up: religions and religious institutions.

l had heard that Argentina was pretty much a Catholic country, although I’d never participated in  religious ceremonies of any kind when I’ve travelled within Buenos Aires and Argentina. While 70% of Argentinans identify as Catholics, down from 90% previously, there is indeed religious diversity in Buenos Aires. Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Mormons, as well as various Protestant and Christian groups each have their own places of worship, and in some cases, of burial too. Let me take you on a tour of the major religions and their institutions.

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Altars, Metropolitan Cathedral

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Side altar, Cathedral

The Metropolitan Cathedral, the most important Catholic Church in the area, is filled with marvelous tilework (not unlike the spectacular Teatro Colon’s), among its many altars and statues. The Cathedral was once the home parish of Pope Francis Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires who lived next door to the cathedral in a simple apartment so he could minister easily to his flock. The cathedral is set across from the Plaza de Mayo.

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Overlooking Recoleta Cemetery

Not exclusively a Catholic cemetery but filled with many catholics, the Recoleta Cemetery where many of BA’s nobility and military elite are buried, dates from the early 18th century. Prior to becoming a cemetery, this area was once part of the land attached to a Catholic cloister with the church–La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar—below it.

 

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From the cloisters overlooking the Recoleta Cemetery

While the land became the burial ground of Argentina’s rich and famous, the church still stands, as does it’s former cloisters. It is possible to visit what has become an interesting museum of Catholic religious art including various oil paintings, carvings, pictures, silverware, books, furniture, and liturgical vestments, etc. that date from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. The view from the cloisters offers a panoramic view of this famous cemetery.

 

The largest mosque in all of Latin America, the King Fahd Islamic Cultural Center, is located in the Palermo neighborhood.

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Mosque entryway

thumb_DSCF0247_1024Both a mosque and a center for Islamic culture, the center hosts a primary and secondary school, as well as a divinities school and a dormitory for 50 students. The mosque is home to about 1% (400,000-500,000 people) of the city’s population.

I had the unique opportunity to visit the mosque during a visit from Chicagoan Fadwa Hasan in 2011. The cultural center has very limited visiting hours, but when my Arabic-speaking colleague said we hadn’t come to visit but to pray, we were immediately welcomed in and taken to the room where women prepare themselves to enter the mosque proper for prayer.

 

thumb_DSCF0246_1024With shawls covering our hair, we were to remove our shoes, bathe our hands and elbows before entering the 2nd floor of the mosque (the first floor being reserved for the men). There we prayed silently before touring the rest of the center, and speaking informally with a young man who had also entered for silent prayer. He explained that when his parents migrated to Argentina they were attracted to the temple and after studying Islam, they converted and are now temple members, as is he.

Another half million people, according to the Mormon’s website, participate in the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Buenos Aires. Yes, there are Argentinian Mormons, and one of the country’s two Mormon temples is situated just outside the city limits in the suburb Ciudad Evita. I’ve never been inside this majestic temple, but its presence in this small suburb a few miles from the international airport offers dramatic views, rising as the tallest building in the area.IMG_1436

Across the street from Parque Lezama in the San Telmo neighborhood sits the majestic Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity of Buenos Aires, also the largest church in South America of its denomination worldwide.

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Russian Orthodox Church

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Russian Orthodox Church, San Telmo

The church was built in 1901 and continues to hold weekly and special services. Its blue and white spires beckon visitors from the nearby Feria de San Telmo and the park.

There are many Jewish synagogues scattered throughout Buenos Aires. Templo Libertad, the oldest Jewish synagogue in Buenos Aires, is located next door to the Jewish Museum and just down the street from the famous Teatro Colon. Starting at the Jewish Museum, whose artifacts

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Hebrew typewriter

tell the history of the Jewish people in Buenos Aires and in Argentina overall, you can then visit the synagogue proper, with its beautiful stained glass windows.

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Synagogue

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Chandelier in Synagogue

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Stained glass, synagogue

Although not specifically religious centers but cultural ones, the Jewish Holocause or Shoah Museum and the AMIA Jewish Community Center also reflect the religious and cultural life of many of the city’s Jewish residents. (Both the Holocaust museum and AMIA Center will be featured in a future post. Subscribe now.)

 

 

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Filed under Buenos Aires, Parque de la Memoria, Plaza de Mayo, Recoleta Cemetery, Religious buildings, Visiting Mendoza

On politics in Argentina: Without freedom of speech there is no democracy

I’ve been coming to Buenos Aires since 2002. In these past 15 years I’ve learned to speak Spanish, learned about Argentinian culture and have made wonderful friendships with many people here. But I’ve only just begun to learn about Argentine politics, as a new president is elected and policies and programs shift from liberal to conservative.

Political conversations seem common and frequent among everyone here. The multiple political parties and their respective perspectives are spread across the conservative-liberal spectrum. Often, as I would listen to others’ political discussions, someone would ask me if I understood what they were saying about various political issues and situations here, and I’d always told them no I did not. Everyone would always reassure me that it was okay not to understand, because even the Argentine people having those same discussions did not understand the politics here either! And we’d laugh at their self-critique and self-commentary.

That was then. I’m not laughing now.

My political education has begun.On December 10, 2015 Argentina elected a new president, Mauricio Macri—a conservative former governor of the city of Buenos Aires—who, it appears to me, wants to rollback and eliminate the social, political and economic policies established during the past twelve years of Kirchners in the presidency (Nestor for 4 and Cristina for 8 of the past 12 years). Slightly more than half of the voting public, 51%, chose Macri. Thus, in a country where popular political expression is a fact of daily life, I expect to see those who sympathized with the former president, Cristina Kirchner protesting in the streets. Kirchneristas–how those who supported her are often referred to in the media—are indeed taking to the streets to advocate for their interests. But once there, protestors are not being allowed the complete freedom of expression as was common during the presidency of Cristina Kirchner.

Kirchneristas (whose candidate Daniel Scioli garnered 49% of the presidential vote) are gathering almost daily in demonstrations against the latest in the series of conservative changes Macri has made in the lone month since he has occupied the presidency. In this short time, Macri has been responsible for firing 10,000 government workers, appointing two new Supreme Court justices and bypassing Congress’ approval. He has imprisoned a political activist, had the riot police attack protestors who were being fired from their jobs. Just what the newly unemployed need–not.  Along comes the 40% devaluation of the peso that impacts everyone’s lives.

Popular radio journalist Victor Hugo Morales was suddenly taken off the airwaves, likely for expressing anti-government views. Macri had already seen that the popular nightly political news analysis program “678” was taken off the air. Free speech seems to be facing swift attacks. The Argentine government has begun again to criminalize peaceful dissent, and to censor opposing points of view.

What is going on? I can understand people wanting change in their government. (The name of Macri’s center-right political party is just that: “Cambiemos”, “let’s change”). I have often voted against the leadership in my own city, state, and country. But what I don’t understand is how those who voted for Macri explain the big, quick shift to the right this conservative new president is taking the country in. And I understand even less why they are tolerating these changes. I wonder what they think about Macri’s actions this past month. Is this the Macri they expected? What now?

Macri’s actions remind me of the censorship and repression that Argentines faced during the military dictatorship of 1976-1973, known as the “dirty war,” when more than 30,000 people were tortured and “disappeared”, killed for their opposition to the dictatorship.  I can’t help but think that Macri is taking Argentines down that desolate path again, with these recent moves to punish and restrict dissent and free speech. Consider for yourself:

Timeline of presidential actions Dec. 12, 2015 – Jan. 17, 2016

  • Dec. 10 Macri elected to office.

  • Dec. 15   Macri bypasses the Congress and appoints “by decree” two Supreme Court Justices. The last time a president did so was in 1862.

  • Dec. 17 Macri undermines the media law and the popular public tv news analysis program “678” disappears from nightly tv.

  • In one week in early January Macri fires 10,000 government workers.

  • Jan. 7 unhappy that Macri dismissed them from their government jobs, public workers in La Plata, Argentina are attacked by riot police using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters.

  • Jan. 11 Continental Radio journalist Victor Hugo Morales is fired from his job.  Morales believes he has been censored by the government for his criticisms of Macri’s actions.

  • Jan. 12 “Thousands march to Plaza de Mayo in support of Victor Hugo Morales” reported TeleSur TV network. “Without freedom of speech there is no democracy” was the slogan used by many of those carrying pickets in the demonstration.

  • Jan. 16 Popular Argentine indigenous leader Milagro Sala is arrested for criticizing the governor’s attacks on social programs in Jujuy. She is imprisoned and remains there under charges of inciting crime and stealing public funds.

Wonder what else I’ll learn in the coming days and months about politics in Argentina? Me too. Subscribe to my blog: http://www.seebuenosaires.com

Next post:Holy, holy, holy: Religion in Argentina

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Filed under Buenos Aires, Dirty War, Golpe Militar, Plaza de Mayo, Politics

Parque de la Memoria

When I read about a new photography exhibition at the Parque de la Memoria I decided it was the right time for me to return to this moving place I discovered accidentally when I took the wrong bus in 2014. My second visit there the other day confirmed this important place for locals and tourists alike to visit.  It is far from the city center, but close to the heart. I hope you will experience some of its power through the art highlighted in this post.

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The Parque de la Memoria  (http://parquedelamemoria.org.ar/), in Spanish “El Monumento a las Víctimas del Terrorismo de Estado”  a Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism) is a 14-acre sculpture park in Buenos Aires located near Costanera Norte, close to the City University, and adjacent to the Río de La Plata River. The park was completed in the early 1990’s as a reminder of the brutality of the dictatorships that were in power in Argentina and throughout Latin America during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

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A three-sectioned monument records the names and ages of everyone who disappeared during the period 1969 -1983. It is a site with sinister associations. Its proximity to the University of Buenos Aires is pertinent because many of the victims were of student age, and it is next to the Rio de la Plata, where many bodies ended up. The junta’s notorious “death flights” (vuelos de los muertos) would take off from a military airport right next to the park, and the prisoners would be thrown into the muddy waters below. From heights that killed them on impact (to learn more read The Story of the Night by Colm Toíbin).

The park project was a collaboration among human rights organizations, the University of Buenos Aires and the Executive and Legislative Powers of the city. Since my initial visit, the park now also houses  the Monumento a las Víctimas del Terrorismo de Estado, a public art program and the PAyS Room.

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The PAyS  Room – acronym for the slogan in Spanish: “Presentes, Ahora y Siempre” (“Present, Now and Forever”) –“ is a space for debate and reflection about State terrorism, human rights and the construction of a collective memory through art, investigation and educational activities.” It is also a venue for visual arts exhibitions, seminars, conferences, workshops, and other activities of general interest that aim for a critical thinking about State terrorism and the persistent scars it has inflicted on Argentine society.

“This place of memory does not pretend to close wounds or replace truth and justice, but rather to become a place of remembrance, homage, testimony and reflection. Its objective is for current and future generations who visit the site to become aware of the horror perpetrated by the State and the need to ensure that similar acts will NEVER AGAIN occur.” (park brochure)

Scattered throughout the park a number of sculptures add powerful witness to the fate of more than 30,000 people during the 1976-83 military dictatorship in Argentina.

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One art piece I found to be amazingly powerful and educational was the installation Carteles de la memoria” (Memory Signs by Grupo de arte callejero), a series of 53 life-size traffic signs camouflaged to suggest a route through Argentina’s recent history.  Each sign has text accompanying it that explains in brief yet meaningful critical commentary, how state terrorism developed in Argentina. Though only a few are reproduced here, the full 53-sign series is an enormous history lesson to absorb.

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Some of the texts illuminate the role of the US in Argentina and Latin America’s dark dictatorial past. The text below this sign reads:  “CIA Plan Condor was the repressive cooperation that existed between the US CIA and the dictators of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brasil and Bolivia during this period.” Between 1950-1975 the Latin American military were trained in North American military facilities like the School of the Americas in the Panama Canal.  There they were taught courses about torture, interrogations, intelligence and military behavior against insurgents.  The objective was to protect North American interests and intervene in whatever countries whose political movements or situations of insurgency constituted an obstacle for advancing North American purposes.”

Or this text

360 detention centers found country-wide

360 detention centers found country-wide

showing the map of Argentina’s provinces where clandestine detention centers stood. More than 360 clandestine detention centers existed although official authorities denied their existence and  the destinies of those detained and tortured there.

IMG_0900On display in the PAYs Room was an equally powerful and moving contemporary photography exhibition, “Huellas de lo Real” (“Footprints of reality”), featuring the work of Juan Travnik, an Argentine who captures urban experience postdictatorshipIMG_0902 and Jonathan Moller, an American documentalist and human rights activist, whose work gives voice to the struggles of peasant populations during conflicts in Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The temporary exhibit brought the peasants’ faces and lives into the very center of this memorial space.IMG_0899

Another outdoor sculpture of a text cut into steel forms Maria Orensanz’s sculpture “Pensar es un hecho revolutionario.” (To think is a revolutionary act). The text has been installed in such a way that the viewer composes the text in his or her mind.  The piece alludes to the power of reflection and refers indirectly to the censorship of books and free thought.

Whether you are inside the PAYS room with its exhibits, walking the outdoor open space of the park along the Rio de la Plata, searching through the names honored in the monument, or viewing the sculptures and thinking and learning about the disappeared, a visit to the Parque de la Memoria in Buenos Aires is a special place–a space for reflection and remembrance. Worth the trip!

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Filed under Dirty War, Golpe Militar, Los desaparecidos, Parque de la Memoria, The disappeared

Come along and walk with me if you like what you see: morning walks in Buenos Aires

One of the joys of escaping Chicago’s winter is that I can take morning walks everyday, January through June (unless it’s already too humid and hot by 10:00am here). Buenos Aires is a very walkable city. I prefer to avoid the busy streets and broken sidewalks wherever possible so I head directly towards greener spots in the Recoleta neighborhood. I’m including this map of the area so you can “follow” my hour-long path if you wish.

my route

my route

I start out on Laprida Street (see yellow burst), head toward French, then over a few blocks on Pacheco de Melo to Austria Street and on to Sanchez de Bustamante. From there I head toward the green along Figueroa Alcorta and Ave. Liberator.

Flower kiosk

Ombú bush

Along the route I pass some lovely flower kiosks, and am never disappointed to see the enormous and beautiful Ombú bushes with their interesting and quite extensive network of roots. A species of evergreen, ombús can grow quite large and provide delightful shaded areas to sit, rest, and contemplate life.

I’ve seen too many “ghost bikes” in Chicago marking spots where cyclists were killed by passing vehicles, and I continue to be surprised by the amount of markers embedded along the streets like these rectangular memorials to some of the 30,000 disappeared during the dirty war. One reads: “Here lived Arcangel “Cacho” Herrera and Hilda Marcia Paz, popular activists detained and disappeared by the state terrorism. Neighborhoods in memory and justice.” Two appear side-by-side, in memory of seven young people from Austria and various provinces in Argentina, who were also disappeared. Memory is alive in this country!IMG_0979

On Agüero Street I pass a park alongside the National Library and pause to snap photos of this “lover’s spot” where couples promise undying love with locks attached to wrought iron window 20150117_121424bars20150117_121511 and am amused by the life-size sculptures of Evita and Juan Peron and their dog seated on a park bench. Only the angle of the morning sun prevents me from taking a selfie alongside them.20150114_105628Continuing my walk along Avenida Libertador, I ascend the steps of the Faculty de Derechos (Law School pictured above) and continue on to the Paseo Ruben Dario and the Plaza Francia near the Buenos Aires Design Mall (with the famous Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar, a 17th century Jesuit church and the 2nd oldest building in the country, in the center background).

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Passing a few runners and others out walking or cycling is a constant, but Saturdays and Sundays bring out many more locals and tourists alike, enjoying the same open green spaces as I do. There is a lot of city to walk, but it’s the greenery that brings me to this “route”. Enjoying this outdoor gallery of murals along Pacheco de Melo Street is definitely a visually exciting way for me to start each day! The quantity and diversity of public art murals along my walk just beg me to photo them. I can’t resist so I hope you’ll enjoy my sharing them with you. Many are 2013 artists’ interpretations of various sites throughout the city. Enjoy viewing them here and plan to come see them in person!

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February 10, 2015 · 7:20 pm