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Do you hear me now?

8 January 2010

Daniel Hernández Salazar’s iconic 1998 polyptych, Esclarecimiento is(more on the artist and his work here)  silently stood in the background as Guatemalan President Alfredo Colom accepted last February, as President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of Guatemala’s armed forces the United Nations Commission for Historical Clarification report on the estimated 200,000 known deaths and 500,000 disappearances under state sponsored terrorism in the 1970s and 80s.

Esclarecimiento a photo-montage shows a Mayan “angel”, the wings being the shoulder blades of some of those victims disinterred from mass graves years later.

The wings that appeared to the forensic anthropologist to be those of a butterfly struck Hernández as those of an angel. But the photographer’s angels would represent more than art. They would also critique the reality of Guatemala, where silence contributed to the violence and impunity. “I don’t want to see, I don’t want to hear, I don’t want to speak of what I don’t like.” While for Hernández, seeing and hearing seemed involuntary, silence was a choice. The three images of the angel that he created thus became, “I don’t see, I don’t hear, I am silent.” People chose silence.

And, thus the fourth… hopeful… image. Guatemala’s Bishop Juan José Gerardi, oversaw the report that was rejected by then president Alvaru Arzu in 1997, and only accepted a dozen years later by Colom.

Two days after its presentation [in 1997]… Monseñor Gerardi was killed, [the angels] also became the visual representation of public mourning as thousands of people marched through the streets in silence carrying the banner of the angels as their voice.

Via Lillie (Memory in Latin America), comes Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens NACLA article on the healing process for Mexico’s southern neighbor, in a conflict that cost the small country of 14 million people an average 35,000 lives a year, year in and year out for twenty years.

Although Mexico’s population is about nine times that of Guatemala, and the deaths and disappearances here during the “dirty wars” probably number in the low thousands, there has never been an accounting.

And of our new “war” ?  We’re still counting the casualties.

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