Based on Heyden White’s argument that it is impossible to give a definitive account of any historical phenomenon- not just genocide, which is considered to be among the “unspeakable” or “untellable” for its violence and tragic circumstances- Argentinean sociologist and President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars Daniel Feierstein characterizes historians as being forced to bridge an abyss between and ever-elusive historical event and the inescapably subjective retelling of that event. Walter Benjamin has pointed out that regarding history, memory should be understood as a story told from the viewpoint of the defeated (as opposed to what ultimately becomes history, which is usually written by the winners). Feierstein incorporates Benjamin’s premises by stating that to remain silent about the story of the defeated or the ‘victim’ is not an option in any circumstance, as their experiences would be cut off from the possibility of representing them and would deprive the surviving generations as members of a society from the opportunity to examine genocide practices from historical or sociological points of view so that they “can be successfully confronted and hopefully eradicated”(he cites Foucault).
Feierstein notes that it remains a question whether it is possible to remember or tell the individual narratives of atrocities and suffering without destroying our sense of hope in the face of future generations. The historian Dominick La Capra, known for his work in intellectual history and trauma studies relates the concept of “working through” as mourning as an idea related to that of witnessing. La Capra’s proposes working through as finding ways in public education and practice to move emotion and value toward the victims in order to establish structures within which there can be “witnesses” for the testimony of victims.
As an artist I am interested in doing work that produces a deliberate ethical consciousness. Without narrating the details of individual peril, I seek to provide a witness where no one was there before, but more than that, a witness that feels responsible for injustice in general. Author and professor Ann Kaplan researching Trauma Studies states in her book Trauma Culture that witnessing involves wanting to change the kind of world where injustice, of whatever kind, is common. Dori Laub points to the urgency of finding a witness where there was none before, or before an “event [that] produced no witnesses”. Because the victims of the military repression in Argentina, and in most Latin American countries, were murdered and disappeared as part of a practice of terrorizing society, the victims bore their suffering alone, without witnesses or the possibility of bearing witness for themselves by sharing their experience as survivors.
I paint a single protagonist of a tragic story, a fifteen-year-old student, Betina Tarnopolsky, kidnapped with her family by navy task forces during the military coup in Argentina in the seventies. I have referenced and appropriated what are considered 'museum treasures' that may help lure the viewer into perceived 'familiar' and even cliché imagery, to once engaged, discover there is more to them.
As an artist I am interested in doing work about remembering trauma, the complications of activating memory and the processes by which history is registered. In light of my interest in looking at past events and of the role of art in representing a means of recollecting perceptions I am interested in ways in which it can be manipulated to produce deliberate ethical consciousness. Without narrating the details of individual peril, I seek to privilege a cultural production that is concerned with a critique of injustice, social hierarchies and exclusions. I am interested in activist interventions and in researching subject matter that addresses a dialog made possible by images that are approachable by different points of view.
… every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns, threatens to disappear irretrievably.