Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chile Journal VII: The Museum of Memory and Human Rights

9/11/73 was the day that military junta led by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the first democratically elected Marxist government in the history of South America. Those who believe there are no coincidences might place this in the category of the paranormal, but actually on a bread and butter level it’s not hard to see why the country’s ruling elite supported the reign of terror that followed. Nationalization was anathema to the wealthy while for the United States, which clandestinely supported the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s government, Chile was another potential Soviet satellite in the mold of Cuba. The doctrine of spheres of influence trumped any concern for principles, a tip of the hat to realpolitik which had been applied in Viet Nam and elsewhere and whose results were even more impoverished than the rationalizations behind them. When you enter the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (The Museum of Memory and Human Rights), a dramatic green box cantilevered over two huge concrete supports, that’s right across the street from Santiago’s Quinta Normal Park, you have the opportunity to descend into an installation called La Geometria de la Conciencia (The Geometry of Conscience) created by the artist Alfredo Jaar. While the museum itself is a documentation of the horrors of the Pinochet regime (amongst the displays are electric shock devices used in torture together with video testaments from survivors), the installation attempts to create the feeling of confinement and terror that victims faced. You are led into a cement cavern and the lights are turned off. There is a button  which can be pushed to exit, but you don’t want to become an accomplice to your own fear. The lights return to reveal a wall composed of sillouettes of the dead and the living, victims and survivors. Then darkness descends again. In l988 the people of Chile famously voted “El No” to the dictatorship. The country of the Nobel Prize winning poet and statesman Pablo Neruda and of the artist Roberto Matta, both supporters of the Allende’s principles, was free again.

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