Lecture remembers human rights issues in 70s Argentina

Emily Alinder

Lecturer in Spanish Nancy Gates Madsen spoke on recent Argentine history in a Main Hall Forum Tuesday. Her lecture, entitled “The Art of Truth Telling: Memorials to the Disappeared in Buenos Aires,” concerned the period from 1970 to 1983, when a military dictatorship controlled the government in Argentina.
During that period, citizens were taken from their homes and tortured, their whereabouts kept in secrecy. Most of the people taken were students, artists and workers, and estimates of the total number victims vary from 8,000 to 30,000.
To give an idea of the horror and abruptness at the victims being taken, Gates Madsen likened it “to the opening scene from the movie “Brazil” in which Mr. Buttle is taken . except without the receipt.”
In a controversial attempt to keep the memory of the disappeared alive, a memorial park is being created in Buenos Aires. The Parque de la Memoria – which means “Park of Memory” in Spanish – will include a statue garden and a memorial. It is currently 25 percent completed, with three of the 16 statues erected.
The controversy lies in what the victims’ families want in contrast to what the overseers and artists of the project want. Most families seem to want a more personal touch for the memorial park, including figures and faces for statues and remembrances.
However, most of the 16 statues chosen for the parks are very abstract, as the overseers and the artists feel that a more modern style is more powerful and evocative. The memorial itself will be four wall segments with victims’ names etched onto plaques.
There is another controversy between those who want a memorial and those who don’t feel it is time for a memorial yet. Opponents want to see the government own up to its violent actions and offer justice to the victims’ families before a memorial is made.
Gates Madsen touched on the possibility of the memorial becoming “invisible” once it has been completed; it seems that, once there is a physical deposit for grief, reflection and contemplation the burden can leave the peoples’ internal selves and become forgotten.
Parallels can be drawn between the Parque de la Memoria and other memorials. Though no one can ever assure that the sacred space will be always used for reflection, it is necessary for the victims’ families and provides a space for contemplation and reflection.
It seems, as Gates Madsen pointed out, that people living in the vicinity of memorials get so used to everyday interaction with them that they lose some meaning; it sometimes seems that one must be a tourist or travel a distance to make a point to see the memorial for their to be a profound reflection.
Memorials such as those at Washington, D.C., the World Trade Center in New York, and Oklahoma City tend to instill more reflection on the events for the memorial if one doesn’t encounter them every day. Gates Madsen offered as a reminder that, when visiting or interacting with any memorial, the remembrance must happen within oneself.
For more information on the specifics of the Parque de la Memoria, visit http://www.parquedelamemoria.org.ar. The Web site gives more details about the disappeared, the park space, each individual statue and provides an online database for victims’ families to enter the name of their missing loved one to be included on the memorial walls.