The Art of Oblivion: Photography, Humanism, and State Violence

Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:40 PM
Suffolk Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Paola Cortés-Rocca , San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
The Argentinean military government (1976-1983) considered politics a battleground and its adversaries as elements to be politically, culturally and physically eliminated. At the beginning of the 80s, democracy not only looked forward, by producing a new beginning in the nation's political history, but also looked backwards, in so far as it insisted upon obligation to recognize genocide where, according to many, nothing had taken place. The visual and textual production surrounding the body of a disappeared is a political, cultural and ethical gesture that can be described in photographic terms: the power of indexicality offers proof of a vanished past. Marcelo Brodsky's work, La buena memoria, attempts to unearth a past buried by the weight of both extermination and oblivion and inaugurates a kind of photographic archeology that resonates with other works: Brodsky's own Nexos, Inés Ulanovsky's Fotos tuyas and 30 mil, by Fernando Gutiérrez, among others. Focusing on Brodsky's work, this paper interrogates the ways in which artists who address the State violence in Argentina represent the desaparecido. It explores two lines of meaning that run through the images and mobilize different forms of memory. On one hand, the humanist discourse that represents the desaparecido as what Arendt calls the “abstract nudity of the human being” and shows him/her as the face of the absolute and inexplicable victim. On the other hand, another kind of collective inscription at the very heart of these images seeks to reconstruct the political, historical, cultural and ideological identity of those who were targets of the government's terror. The tension between these forms of memory provides a lens through which we can understand not only the Argentinean dictatorship but also the relationships among memory, inequality, resistance and State violence.
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