|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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
On 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 postdictatorship 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.
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!