In the aftermath of atrocity, societies develop diverse mechanisms to cope with the legacy of violence. The experienced trauma involves not only the physical violence visited upon individual bodies, but also the destruction of families, communities and broader societal networks. Truth commissions seek to develop new narratives to understand past violence, while other mechanisms, including trials and reparations programs, attempt to provide more concrete forms of justice to survivors and relatives of victims of violence. Beyond these traditional transitional justice mechanisms, diverse art forms have also been deployed by those directly affected by violence as well as by artists seeking to convey new interpretations of why violence occurred and how it has impacted people and society at large.
The Center for Global Studies at George Mason University has convened an international symposium to explore the dynamic role that the arts can play in challenging structures of violence and promoting human rights and social change. The Arts After Atrocity conference brings together artists, filmmakers, scholars and those affected by violence —from Latin America, the Balkans, and beyond— to discuss how the arts are deployed to represent past violence and reinterpret fundamental understandings of power, truth, and justice. The Center has long hosted research projects focusing on global human rights, transitional justice, and post-conflict reconstruction. With this conference, the Center continues its effort to engage the Mason community in a dialogue about a dimension of globalization that is underexamined by mainstream media and academics: global efforts to promote human rights and find mechanisms that can bring effective repair to those who have suffered such abuses.
The Center is especially honored to bring to the Mason campus a collection of art works by the Peruvian artists collective Itinerant Museum of Art for Memory (Museo Itinerante de Arte por la Memoria), as well as two of the founding members of the collective, Mauricio Delgado and Karen Bernedo. This collective has played a galvanizing role in recent years by using diverse art forms to challenge current memory practices in Peru, a country that faces multiple challenges in its efforts to overcome the recent conflict between government forces and insurgent groups that resulted in 70,000 deaths. The Itinerant Museum has traveled the length and breadth of Peru to bring the artwork to a broad audience and provoke new ways of thinking and talking about the violence that subsumed Peru in the 1980s and 1990s. It is a project of hope that challenges us to think not only about the violence that was inflicted upon so many innocent people, but also about our own complicity in structures of violence.
The Center for Global Studies would like to thank Latin American Studies, the Human Rights & Global Justice Working Group, and University Life for their co-sponsorship of this event.
— Jo-Marie Burt
Co-Director, Center for Global Studies
To better understand how art and artists interface with the processes oftransition, the Center for Global Studies organized a day-long conference on“Arts after Atrocity: Global Human Rights and Local Representations of Violence and Resistance.” This international symposium brought together artists, filmmakers, scholars and those affected by violence to discuss how the arts are deployed to represent past violence and reinterpret fundamental understandings about power, truth, and justice.
The conference centered on three discussion panels: one titled Represent-ations of Violence: Memory and Politics in the Balkans, a second called Art and Social Change in a Globalizing World and a third, Art and Collective Memory in the Aftermath of Violence: Latin American Perspectives. The conference began with a screening of Lourdes Portillo’s film Al Más Allá. This film explores the impact of drug trafficking on Mexico’s poor fishing communities. Professor of Modern and Classical Languages Ricardo Vivancos-Perez led a fascinating Q & A session with conference participants.
The first panel featured presentations from Croatian filmmaker Luka Rukavina, who discussed the use of film in post-conflict Balkans. Mr. Rukavina presented clips from some of his own works as well as those of his colleagues, providing a fascinating glimpse into the everyday struggles of people living in post-war Croatia and Bosnia. Mr. Rukavina also provided a first-hand account of the creative process in a politicized and emotionally charged context such as the Balkans. Vjeran Pavlakovic, assistant professor of Cultural Studies at the University of Rijeka, in Croatia discussed the use of monuments and memorials in the former Yugoslavia. Mr. Pavlakovic provided an interesting examination of the intersection between state monuments and nationalism in Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosevic. Iva Vukušic, is a war crimes researcher at The Hague, Netherlands. Ms Vukušic also discussed her work at the Special War Crimes Department of the Prosecutor’s Office in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The second panel focused on the intersection between art and social activism from Syria to Colombia and beyond. Mason faculty member and director of Middle East Studies Bassam Haddad discussed art in contexts of social upheaval. Dr. Haddad focused particularly on his experiences in the Middle East, sharing from his research and work following the events of the Arab Uprising over the past year. Don Russell directs the Provisions Research Center at George Mason University. Mr. Russell’s presentation highlighted the work done at Provisions, which operates at the intersection of art, research, and social activism. Edgar Endress, professor of Art and Visual Technology at Mason discussed his work with the Floating Lab Collective. Endress presented images and stories from some of the Collective’s exhibits in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America.
The third panel examined the Latin American experience with art in conflict and post-conflict settings, particularly Peru and Mexico. The final panel, moderated by Latin American Studies director and CGS co-director Jo-Marie Burt, featured presentations by Mauricio Delgado and Karen Bernedo, visual artists and human rights activists from Peru. They shared thoughts on their experiences as artists memorializing atrocities committed during that country’s internal conflict between 1980 and 2000. Mr. Delgado and Ms. Bernedo also curated a temporary exhibition that was on display throughout the day in the lobby of the conference building.
This exhibition featured works by Delgado, Bernedo, and others who are among the most innovative, if controversial artists in their field in Peru. Marcial Godoy-Anativia, Associate Director of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at New York University discussed his work at the institute and as publisher of the journal e-misférica. Dr. Godoy-Anativia presented some of the scholarship and artwork associated with the Institute with a focus on identity and memory in Mexico and Peru.
Andy Shallal, proprietor of Busboys and Poets, the D.C. area’s most exciting forum for art and politics, delivered the evening’s keynote address. Mr. Shallal discussed his experiences as an artist and his thoughts on art, race, and culture in the U.S. To cap the event, participants were treated to a spoken word performance by the great Sonya Renee. Miss Renee delivered a series of powerful and moving pieces on issues from violence in Rwanda to crime and punishment in the District of Columbia.
Special exhibit: Art works by the Peruvian artists collective Itinerant Museum of Art for Memory
Serie Morada del Alma
Refuge of the Soul Series
Acrylic on burlap canvas
The body—wounded-dead-disappeared—appears doomed to oblivion by the widespread tendency to not admit mistakes. The mothers-daughters-wives appear to transcend this order and rebel against it. The victim and his or her family, both vestiges of our recent collective memory, the latter detained but alive in the memory of his or her relatives, who themselves are more alive than ever. Both actors are represented in the burlap canvas and the realistic drawings, presentations of the protagonists of our hidden memory; together, shrouded and patched, bandaged and wounded, silence and courage.
The word Ayacucho, in Quechua, can be translated into Spanish as Morada del alma, refuge of the soul [Editor’s note: Quechua is the largest indigenous language spoken in Peru; Ayacucho was the epicenter of the political violence in Peru]. The various nuances of the language allows me prefer this translation to the more common, literal translation of Ayacucho as “corner of the dead.” The mothers and widows of the missing, who organized themselves into the National Association of Relatives of Those Disappeared, Detained, and Tortured of Peru (ANFASEP), are from Ayacucho, which has become the true refuge of the soul of our people. The mothers and widows, like all those affected by the internal armed conflict, continue to struggle for truth and justice; they are the corner and the refuge, precisely, of truth and justice. They are the refuge from which our struggle against oblivion can gain momentum and strength against the pain and the indifference of the most conservative sectors of our society, those who are the main perpetuators of oblivion.
About the art works in the Refuge of the Soul series…
Refuge of the Soul is made up of four large-format pieces created on burlap canvas, with subtle use of textures,where the material and the image complement each other and find their own meaning. The work is divided in two parts. On one side, the pieces “The Fighter” and “Speechless” refer to the role the family members of the victims have played in these 30 years of rejection and constant struggle.
La Luchadora, The Fighter, is the starting point of the visual and conceptual proposal of the series. The piece is dedicated to the mothers of ANFASEP, who in 1983, during the highest peak of violence, organized as an association, before anyone else, to search for their missing children and loved ones, and to demand justice and respect for human rights. In those years, they created a banner made out of flour sacks they had been given. It read, “They took them alive, we want them back alive.” It is this banner of strung-together burlap sacks that they fondly referred to as “The Fighter.” This fragile but powerful material serves as the raw material for the Refuge of the Soul series. In this series, this basic and fragile material, a sign of the poverty of the mothers but also the resourcefulness of those who face great odds, is rescued and converted into the artwork itself. In its precariousness, the canvas of burlap sacks is powerful, strong in its simplicity, and in its poverty, it calls to us. In The Fighter we see the proud and happy faces of the brave women of ANFASEP, secure in their rights, the protagonists.
“Speechless” is a mended and manipulated canvas with an excerpt from the testimony of Angelica Mendoza, founder and first president of ANFASEP:
“Sir, I have no fear of death. I will die. I will give you the five solcitos* for the cost of your bullet, if you just tell me where my son is. When I know where my son is, I will die in peace.”
Mother Angelica, as she is fondly referred to in Peru, said these words alone, kneeling before the soldiers that debated whether or not to kill her after they found her searching for her son among the mountains of bodies in a cave. Seconds later, a bullet grazed her head. In the same untiring and energetic spirit, she has fought for nearly 30 years [Editor’s note: *In 1985, five soles was equivalent to $0.35 USD. Solcitos gives the impression that it is a measly amount, a pittance.]
The other half of the Refuge of the Soul series is made up of two pieces, De Cuerpo Presente I (In Lying State I) and De cuerpo presente II (In Lying State II), both of which represent the victim and the presence-absence of the victim as experienced by his or her relative —the pain, the memory, the “trauma,” of the survivors.
In Lying State I is the image of the crucified Christ with a mask used in indigenous celebrations in the highland region of Puno. Beneath the image is the phrase, “Your human rights are bullshit.” [Editor’s note: these words were uttered by then Bishop of Ayacucho —and now Cardinal and Archbishop of Lima— Monseñor Juan Luis Cipriani, in reference to human rights organizations that denounced the military’s abuse of human rights during the armed conflict.] The representation of the body of the Christian god is an allusion to the mutilated body of those affected by the terror. The mask reflects the efforts to understand the roots of the conflict, but goes further, attempting to embody the cultural clash our people have experienced since the Conquest. The demonization of the Indian and his/her culture, the ethnocide ideologically supported by the Catholic Church during the Conquest and the Republic, is echoed in the words at the feet of the masked Christ figure, spoken by the Church’s maximum authority during the height of the conflict. Logics that nearly 200 years later continue to repeat themselves.
These two artworks are completed with another piece of representing a missing body, wearing a man’s jacket and pants, as if they were on display at a memorial service in Peruvian mountains in the 1980s. Under the clothing is the phrase, “I am something that’s not alive, but that breathes.” The loved one is missing yet still alive in the memories of the families, unseen, awaiting justice, and citizenship.
Refuge of the Soul was my third solo exhibition. It was in homage to the bravery, courage, and strength of the thousands of family members of the disappeared-detained-tortured. But it was also a protest agains the indifference of society and the apathy and treachery of our leaders.
A Trip toward Remembrance
Art Installation in public transportation between October 2004 and March 2005
The objective of this urban installment was to raise awareness about the more than 15,000 Peruvians who were forcibly disappeared during the country’s internal armed conflict. The challenge was to invade the every day life of people in Lima, a space that had long been indifferent and ignorant of the war that occurred in the poorest areas of Peru. Bus tickets, stamped with the names and images of missing Peruvians, were distributed to passengers on buses across the city.
Kimono to Not Forget
Mixed technique installation
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that really matter.
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
…the proclivity of these governments for a military solution [to the problem of political violence] without civilian control was supported by a considerable sector of Peruvian society, especially the educated urban sector, who benefited from government services and resided far from the epicenter of the conflict. These groups watched with indifference or demanded a speedy solution as long as it the social cost was paid primarily by the rural and most impoverished citizens.
– Conclusion 77, Peruvian Truth & Reconciliation Commission
Some years have passed since the presentation of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), but we are perplexed witnesses of how the mechanisms of socially based exclusion in our country remain still intact. That common belief that the lives of some are worth more than the lives of others is, though officially unrecognized, accepted by large sectors of the population. This is a position that conceives human life as a trade-off in pursuit of a political objective, a position that was adopted by both sides of the conflict, including those who declared war on the State and the repressive State itself. Peru —a society in which violence is structural— refuses to look in the mirror, because it knows that the truth is painful and that to accept it has a cost.
In the struggle against impunity, oblivion and injustice at all levels, as men and women move toward building abetter world, a kimono [Editor’s note: a traditional Japanese form of clothing, used to represent the regime of former president, of Peruvian-Japanese descent, Alberto Fujimori] is re-signified by taking on a critical and self-reflective attitude that is sensitive to human pain and social injustice. We cannot build peace in our lives based on the denial of our neighbor. Unfortunately, this social practice has become commonplace in Peru: an ominous common willingness to accept the cost of violence as long as it is others who pay, those who do not enjoy the same degrees of citizenship and social recognition as ourselves.
The Kimono interpolates the viewer and confronts us with our collective
memory as well. Indifference is an accomplice of injustice, our silence supports a model of civilization based on injustice, selfishness and competition. Therefore, with the use of the mirror, the viewer can compare the phrase “silent complicity” with her reflection, and contemplate her position in the world and her real capacity to transform it.
Father Gustavo Gutiérrez [Editor’s note: a Peruvian priest who is considered the father of the progressive Catholic doctrine known as “liberation theology”] defines poverty as social insignificance. We can also say then that the question is whether we are capable of recognizing ourselves in diversity, if we are able to construct a democratic social existence without exception, recognize otherness in and support wholeheartedly a radically democratic society, where we are all included, where there are no second or third class citizens, where there is no longer any social insignificance.
Silkscreen on paper
Through the use of the bureaucratic file, Project Peru-Files reconstructs and recreates the history of individual cases of human rights violations. It makes use of photographic and graphic elements in this historical reconstruction, as well as in the use of an object that connects each particular story.
The project proposes to identify and focus on individual cases of actors (whether as victims, victimizers, and/or martyrs) of political and structural violence, which can serve as the foundation for creating an open map of the violence.
Through the poetic reconstruction of these stories, and by using images that come from some of these most emblematic cases of violence, the piece proposes the construction of a memory that speaks from the collectivity from which the actors came, and which constitutes an operative element of their collective unconsciousness. The protagonists of these histories did not necessarily have a choice in what happened to them, events that forced them confront the limits of the human condition.
Armando File – Envelope
Envelope that contains the collection of flipcharts. Superimposed image. Collection of milk boxes “Gloria,” that contained the remains of nine students and one professor, kidnapped, executed, and disappeared by the Special Intelligence Group COLINA in 1992. The bodies of the students were returned to their families in these boxes, after they were found in a common grave in Cieneguilla, on the outskirts of Lima.
Armando File I
Armando Amaro Cóndor. Fragmented face.
This was the identity document photograph of Armado that was circulated after he and the other students and professor were kidnapping from the “La Cantuta” University campus to help in the search to locate him. Amaru in Quechua means serpent, and Cóndor is the name of the largest bird of the Americas. Together the beings are a very important part of the Andean world view.
Armando File II
Armando Amaro Cóndor. Attorney General’s description of his identity.
Compiled text of the Attorney General Víctor Cubas who investigated the case of the disappearance and kidnapping of a group of students from “La Cantuta,” in which he describes the most notable characteristics of Armando. One thing stood out: a group of keys that he always carried with him.
Armando File III
Armando Amaro Cóndor. Raida Cóndor, mother of Armando.
Raida Cóndor, mother of Armando, poses showing the identity photo of her son in front of the Military Justice building, where the members of the COLINA Group were put on trial. They were sentenced and later given amnesty by the dictatorial government of Alberto Fujimori.
Armando File IV
Armando Amaro Cóndor. Keys extracted from the communal grave.
The hand of the forensic anthropologist hands the Attorney General the keys that were found among the burned remains in the communal grave in Cieneguilla. They were not destroyed by the fire, as the bodies of the disappeared were. They were crucial in identifying the remains of the disappeared students.
Armando File V
Armando Amaro Cóndor. Keys open the house of Armando.
The keys are “the key” to clarifying the “La Cantuta” case. Thanks to them, it was possible to establish that the kidnapped and disappeared students had been killed and burned by the COLINA Group; and to establish the criminal responsibility of the ex-president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, in 2009.
Inspired by a fragment of text by Peruvian writer and anthropologist Jose María Arguedas, “They say that we are backward,” this piece exposes one of the key structural causes of the internal armed conflict: the exclusion and marginalization of the Andean communities, and the resulting indifference of the urban middle classes to what was happening to the peasants, who made up 75% of the victims from the war.
Tapestries for Memory
Association of Displaced Women of Huaycán Mama Quilla
Mama Quilla is an organization of families who were displaced as a result of Peru’s internal armed conflict. Based in Huaycán, a popular district in Lima, the organization is led by Quechua-speaking women and the majority of its members are from Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Apurimac, and Huancayo.
In 2007 the members of Mama Quilla began to produce tapestries, known as arpilleras, in which they convey their stories as women who were forced to migrate from their home communities to the capital and who struggled to survive in a strange and hostile environment. Because of the profound racism of Peruvian society against people of Andean heritage like them, they had to struggle daily against prejudice and marginalization. The tapestry therefore becomes the artistic means by which they retell their stories and memories to other generations and their own children.
Rosario [Akito] Bertran Sotomayor
The publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report in 2003 helped to reveal the magnitudeof the violent events that Peru experienced during its internal war. One of the most alarming facets of this history is the number of victims, which is estimated at 70,000 fatalities, 14,900 of which are persons who were forcibly disappeared. These numbers will most likely rise with time.
15,000/70,000 is conceived as a live, ongoing project, in which the magnitude of the crime of forced disappearance is revealed through each piece of cloth in this work, which represents the memory of an individual missing person. The work expands over larges surfaces and is therefore impossible to avoid, using public space to raise awareness and avoid forgetting the disappeared.
Drawings – Digital prints
Chungui is a district in the province of La Mar, Ayacucho, whose southern part is better known as “Oreja de Perro”(Dog’s Ear). In 1981, the Shining Path infiltrated this region and started one of the bloodiest episodes in the recent history of violence in Peru. The conflict reached indescribable limits in Chungui, leaving profound and painful consequences. In 1996, when Edilberto Jiménez was working for the Center for Agricultural Development (CEDAP) in Ayacucho, he went to Chungui for the first time to engage in communications and cultural outreach to the highland communities. He was a witness to some of the horrific violence that occurred in his native Ayacucho, and the inhabitants of Chungui shared with him their testimonies of the horrific violence inflicted upon this community. Moved by their witness and guided by his sensibilities as an artist and his concern for human rights, he began collecting their testimonies and drawing images of the stories he heard. These sketches were later completed and converted into the drawings that have helped to keep alive the words of the victims.
Testimonies of Pain and Courage
These images are fragments of a travelling photographic exhibit of images and testimonies of women affected bypolitical violence. This exhibit is an initiative of the Project Counselling Service (PCS) and been on display in different places across Peru.
…many children were left orphaned, many mothers were left without their children or husbands…
My mother worked with them until she disappeared… and to this day we know nothing about what happened to her.
Guadalupe Ccallocunto joined ANFASEP, the association of widows of the missing, to search for her husband Eladio Quispe, who had been detained and disappeared onDecember 18, 1983. On June 10, 1990, 15 hooded and heavily armed men wearing military uniforms broke into her home and violently kidnapped Ms. Ccallocunto. Her whereabouts remain unknown.
Click here for a copy of the CGS Spring 2012 Conference Agenda