Writing 305: The Politics of Visual Rhetoric

Kristi Wilson: Building Memory in Argentina

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Source: www.dailymail.co.uk

In her essay on remembering the violence and the many disappeared persons in Argentina during its dictatorship years in the 1970s and 1980s , Kristi Wilson examines two former detention centers made into museums. She posits that the sites, the ex-ESMA and the Garage Olimpo, represent “space[s] of memory and an ongoing battleground” rather than ‘commodified’ spaces filled with gift stores and so on. In contrast with the average museum, these sites take on a significantly deeper meaning and purpose than is sometimes asserted, as Wilson suggests. For instance, the vivid setup of the relics recreates the historical scenes of torture, giving the visitor an authentic exposure to the reality of the past.

Preservation of memory has been an arduous task, especially so in Argentina and other Latin American countries. This is of paramount importance in the context of shifting power relations or global economic integration, where ‘the market’ often utilizes similar spaces to “erase and replace” memory instead of “educat[ing] and display[ing] the ongoing process of accountability” (p. 125). Nonetheless, it is not always just the market and other abstract forces. In some case, such as in Cambodia, the people themselves prefer moving on to reconciliation of past crimes. This is an important point, which suggests that the choice between the two is not always crystal clear.

However, in this regard, Wilson emphasizes the noncommercial role of similar sites in breaking the complicit silence of the past. In doing so, the museums ‘speak’ to their audiences – the visitors – via vivid displays of historical evidence, including photographs, documents and forensics. Countering the prevailing rhetoric which belittles the past horror is important in bringing government impunity to an end. And this is, for Wilson, the most important thing.


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