In both Guatemala and Chile, it has been decades since bloody civil wars have ended. But in a recurrent theme of Latin American history, both countries still struggle with the dark legacies that their nation’s respective internal struggles have left behind. One of BBC’s Latin American correspondents, Louise Morris, recently traveled to both Guatemala and Chile to observe and investigate the role of art in Latin American countries, and how forms of expression can be used to both facilitate demand for social and political justice, and also as a tool for remembrance and the inversion of commonly accepted – though often naive – popular historical narratives.
In Guatemala, performance artist Regina José Galindo uses theatrics to demonstrate the plight of the indigenous Maya in the small country, a group that was brutally repressed by the state during the 36 year Guatemalan civil war. While standing onstage reading testimony from victims, Galindo is regularly given shots of anesthetics to numb her mouth and make speech essentially impossible. However, the artist, against all odds, never stops sharing testimonies. Her efforts are meant to symbolize that the victims of former Guatemalan leader Montt’s regime, a man who previously has been tried for genocide (and is once again on trial), will never be forced into silence.
Farther south, Chile struggles to cope with the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship. According to Louise Morris, it has become popular in Chile to try and simply forget and move on from the past. However, turning a blind eye to previous societal issues can only lead to social stagnation. Hence, the need for art. Art is both individual and collective expression, and through it collective memory can live on and can also be used as a conduit to potentially address unresolved issues from any given society’s past.