Guatemala: Powerful Images of War Victims Leave Some Uncomfortable

Photo by Surizar and used under a Creative Commons license

Capturing images on film is one way to ensure that the collective memory does not forget about a country's history. When that country's history includes gruesome events, those images can become powerful, yet uncomfortable reminders of the past. In Guatemala, a couple of photographers have become involved in documenting and representing images from the armed conflict that took place for 36 years.

The blogger Aly of the collective blog Dorsumi [es] writes about a French photographer who published a book called “La verdad bajo la tierra. Guatemala, el genocidio silenciado” (The buried truth. Guatemala, the silenced genocide).

En 1990, Miquel Dewever-Plana, fotógrafo francés de origen catalán, conoció en México a varios refugiados mayas guatemaltecos y decidió involucrarse a favor de los derechos humanos. Durante dos años Miquel documentó el proceso de exhumación de muchas víctimas del genocidio guatemalteco, informando así sobre un crimen contra la humanidad poco conocido: las masacres perpetradas por el Gobierno de Guatemala entre los indígenas mayas durante la década de 1980, y dar a conocer a las víctimas con nombres y apellidos, contribuyendo así a dignificarlas. Fruto de aquel reportaje se publicó este libro que acompaña la exposición con el mismo nombre que ha podido verse hasta el momento en ciudades como París, Barcelona o Palafrugell, entre otras.

In 1990, Miquel Dewever Plana, a French photographer of Catalonian roots, met several Guatemalan Mayan refugees in Mexico and he decided to become active in human rights issues. For two years, Miquel documented the exhumation process of many victims of the genocide in Guatemala, providing information of a crime against humanity that is not widely known: the masacres perpetrated by the Guatemalan Government against indigenous people during the 1980s and by doing so, provides information about the victims, with first names and last names, contributing to their dignity. As a result of that documentation, he published a book that accompanied the exhibition of the same name, which has been shown in places like Paris, Barcelona or Palafrugell, among others.

Another photographer, Daniel Hernández Salazar, also has made much effort to rescue the memory of the victims. He was recently invited to the Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to showcase his work. Some of the images depicted nude males representing the victims of the war, and were subsequently removed by some staff members of the United Nations Organization because they were said that they could be offensive to some groups. However, some people, like the blogger León Aguilera Radford of the blog Klavaza [es] thinks this was nothing more than censorship:

Guatemalan photographer Daniel Hernández-Salazar was invited to expose his photographs at the Palais des Nations , See of the United Nations Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Hernandez's images expose in an artistic and metaphoric way the horrors left by the civil war that devastated that Central American country during more than 30 years. One of his aims is to preserve the usually fragile memory of such events, in order to prevent its recurrence. In Guatemala, I am aware, many people would be glad to forget all that happened. However, History has the tendency to remember, like Borges Funes el Memorioso character.

It is fairly logical to imagine how difficult it must be to find a central point of agreement between the many representatives, officers, clerks, visitors, ambassadors and all such fauna, from a worldwide acquisition that conforms the UNO. But this is Art, Western Art if that matters, the same that has been a landmark of aesthetics since time immemorial. Therefore, it is impossible for me to justify UNO censorship, even after its officers accepted to expose three void spaces, to signal the missing images, and to send the visitors to this web site, where the images are in a permanent, albeit virtual, exposition. I advice to you to please visit that site, You'll enjoy it.

These images can help preserve the memory of individuals, who were victims of a tragic past. Many photographers like Plana and Hernández-Salazar want to use their works so that others can understand history, build a future, and make the phrase “Never Again” not simply rhetoric, but a promise for the future.

Thumbnail photo by James Rodríguez and used with permission

Addendum: To see Daniel Hernández’ photos in question that were removed in Geneva, please visit this site.

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