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Visualizing Absence

The slide shows Memorias y Encierros / Memories and Enclosures by Barbara Sutton (Argentina) and ¿VER O NO VER? / TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE? by Mirta Kupferminc (Argentina) were created at the Hemispheric Institute Encuentro in Buenos Aires in June 2007 as part of the Digital Photography Workshop Visualizing the Body Politic, taught by Julio Pantoja and myself and assisted by Carolina Soler. Barbara, Mirta, and I were also participants in the Workgroup on Trauma, Memory and Performance co-led by Marianne Hirsch and Diana Taylor. As part of this workgroup, we visited the ESMA, Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (Naval Mechanics School), the largest and most notorious site where political prisoners were taken and never seen again during the military dictatorship of 1976–1983 that has been transformed (not without controversy) into a national memorial. We also were given tours of the Parque de la Memoria with Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism, the state-sponsored memorial to the disappeared, and an alternative memorial, the Parque Indoamericano: Paseo de Los Derechos Humanos, outside of the city center of Buenos Aires.

These two slide shows reflect diverse strategies for thinking about disappearance and memorialization. Barbara Sutton—a Women’s Studies scholar working at SUNY, Albany—focused on the absence of markers for the female victims of the ‘Dirty War.’ She noted that while there were specific memorials for workers, students, and various political and nationalist groups of victims, no one had thought to acknowledge that women—one third of the disappeared—remain invisibilized. Internationally-renowned visual artist Mirta Kupferminc takes a more abstract approach in her reaction to the sites. As someone who lived and worked in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War, Mirta’s relationship to the space is different from those of us who were visiting the sites from abroad and from Argentineans who were born after the dictatorship.

Photographs have been used extensively in response to the Dirty War to witness, locate, and commemorate the victims. Well-known groups such as the Madres de Plaza de Mayo and H.I.J.O.S. have used photographic images to memorialize, witness, protest, and incite action concerning the plight of 'the disapppeared.' The time-based slide shows created by Sutton and Kupferminc have used photographs not only to visualize the absence of the thousands who died as a result of state terrorism but to also question the difficult process of memorialization.

— Lorie Novak

Lorie Novak’s photographs, installations, and Internet projects have been in numerous exhibitions including solo exhibitions at ArtSway, Hampshire, England; The International Center for Photography, NY; Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and in group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, NY; The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Art Institute of Chicago; Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She has been the recipient of numerous fellowships including residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center (Italy), ArtSway (England), and the Mac Dowell Colony (US). Her photographs are in numerous permanent collections, and her web project was one of earliest participatory online collective memory sites when it launched in 1996 in London. Novak is Professor of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. See for more information.

Bárbara Sutton is an Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at the University at Albany-SUNY. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Oregon (2004) and a Law degree from the National University of Buenos Aires (1993), Argentina, where she was born and raised. Professor Sutton’s scholarly interests include body politics, globalization, human rights, women’s and global justice movements, and intersections of inequalities based on gender, class, race-ethnicity, sexuality, and nation, particularly in Latin American contexts. Her latest research explores the connections between racism, citizenship, and democracy in Argentina. She also conducted a study that examines women’s bodily experiences in Argentina in relation to broad social issues such as economic crisis, norms of femininity, reproductive politics, gender violence, and political protest. She is currently working on an edited volume that explores issues of global significance, tentatively titled, Rethinking Security: Gender, Race, and Militarization.

Mirta Kupferminc is an Argentinean visual artist whose work has been shown in her native country and overseas since 1977. She has had over forty individual shows and has been awarded numerous prizes in Argentine exhibitions as well as in international contests. Kupferminc has participated in international printmaking biennials and triennials in Koichi, Kanagawa, Taipei, Krakow, Gÿor, Buenos Aires, Puerto Rico, and Ljubljana. She has works on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Taipei; at the Sokey Academy of Fine Arts in Tokyo; at the Tama University Museum in Japan; in the Kleinsassen Museum in Fulda, Germany; at the Contemporary Collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; and in a number of private collections and museums in her own country. Her work deals with issues of migration and the mixture of cultures. “Argentina is a country shaped by multiple ethnic and immigrant groups, the globalization phenomenon and increasing social inequalities have engendered a planet that has become inhospitable for its inhabitants; hence, territories fade and individuals endlessly pass ‘the Place,’ symbolized in many of my works by a winged chair.”