Veronica Fieiras, a photographer from Argentina, about her book “The Disappeared” – the artist’s emotional statement about a cruel page in her country’s history, her pain and the recovery of lost memories of 30 000 dictatorship victims
The project “The Disappeared” developed from the need to go back to my own roots and re-connect with my identity. The starting point is an open wound, my personal one and that of Argentina – the country I come from. As the project reflects on the fading of memory and identity, it claims their conservation. It lays on the table the subject of time and its ephemeral effects together with the perpetual necessity to keep memory alive. This is to say: from the image and the word it recreates the meaning of absence.
As it happens with many people of my generation, the dictatorship period was not a direct part of our lives but it blended unconsciously as a part of our childhood. When I first moved from Argentina to Spain in 2001, I tried not to think about my country in an attempt to stop missing my family, friends and roots. Then the suit of armour broke and I started feeling homesick.
I realized there was no other place where you could feel home as in your own country. I experienced a kind of identity crisis and wondered why I had left Argentina. I started looking at my country with a love even greater than when I had lived there. I needed to get back to my roots.
I remember a small story my mother told me once. During the dictatorship in Argentina I was 5 years old and we were having dinner at my grandfather’s with some of his colleagues from work that we did not know well. You should keep in mind that at that time you could not trust anyone, because any wrong comment to the wrong person could make you end up in persecution. I yelled: “Police are bad!” My mother, scared, answered: “No, Vero! Who told you that? Police are taking care of us!” I answered her: “You did it! Every time a policeman is around, you grab my hand so hard that it hurts”. I guess that constant fear and the fragility of life have been embedded on me for the rest of my life since the times when I was so little…
During my last visit to Argentina in 2013, I visited a place called “ESMA”, which used to be a military school. In the times of the dictatorship people who were considered to be subversive were secretly taken there to be tortured and killed. Today “ESMA” is a memorial to 30,000 Argentineans who disappeared during the Dirty War. I visited the memorial with one of my cousins, an activist at that time. Fortunately he survived, but many of his friends disappeared, they were tortured, and killed.
At “ESMA” there is a huge mosaic composed of disappeared people’s portraits called “The Memory Wall”. I was deeply touched by watching my cousin as he was searching the mosaic for friends from high school, whose destinies remain unknown now. He was trying to recover memories of his friends…
I never had the intention and I would never dare to try to find answers to questions about such a tragic and wild part of our history. There are not answers, but pain… My intention to work with this topic emerges from a personal necessity of recovering my own history and to question about my country’s memory treatment. I could say my project is an invitation to people to reflect rather than to give answers. I think it is impossible to give any answers at all.
From the beginning the project “The Disappered” was conceived as a book. I used found photographs that dated back and belonged to the dark and terrible stage in my country’s history. To construct the book’s first edition I used faces, words, paper structures, mosaics, transparencies, enlargement, zooming, deconstructing and overlaying facial information – all having to do with those 30,000 people who disappeared in the times of the dictatorship. I mainly used faces because for me it is in the faces where all the history lies engraved. The images were put in an indestructible kind of paper with a sense of touch that makes you feel pleasure and rejection at the same time.
For the second edition, I used chemicals to dissolve images, making them disappear more and then photographed the remains and construct a new book out of them. It turned out to be an evolution of the first edition.
When working on the book I guess that the most difficult part was the emotional one. To go through all those faces, one by one, to choose the ones that were going to be part of the book. I always work guided by emotions and was totally immersed into what those faces were saying to me during the whole process. I could feel their pain and managed to make them come alive again.
The book “The Disappeared” had a very good feedback from the beginning which was very important for me not in terms of feeding my artist ego but because I felt I reached my main goal: to somehow make the topic more universal, understandable and emotionally moving to people of any nationality.
It was shown in many galleries and art fairs around the world but the main and most important one for me was when they contacted me from the “Memory Park” to show it in an exhibition about Human Rights in Buenos Aires. In that moment I felt my work was complete, because the book was in the place it belonged to and I felt it was accepted and appreciated.
In November 2013 together with Ilkin Huseynov I founded “RIOT BOOKS”, an independent publishing house specialised in handmade limited edition artist’s books. When we created it, we did not have a fixed idea about which kind of books we were going to publish. We chose the name intuitively and I guess the word “riot” has a lot to do with our characters and our personalities are ultimately in charges of choosing the right projects for “RIOT”.
The “riot feeling” I had about “The Disappeared” project being published with our publishing house, is related to the necessity to somehow raise consciousness and face the injustice under which thousands of people were killed for a simple fact of having the ideology different from that of others, the injustice connected with some people’s killing their victims’ truth in order to implement their own authority. That, I understand, is the core of any dictatorship in human history.
© Bleek Magazine. Images and text: Veronica Fieiras.The material is prepared by Olga Bubich.