20 September 2013

la perla

yesterday we got the opportunity to visit la perla, the largest concentration camp in córdoba during argentina's brutal military dictatorship of 1976-1983. about 2,500 of the 30,000 disappeared went through this facility. only 190 survived.

our guide stressed that la perla is now not a museum, but a "sitio de memoria." a museum strives to reconstruct the past and convey exact details; a center cultural memory aims to open a dialogue among visitors and society that presses into the more substantive questions: why did this happen, how did society go about its daily life as it occurred, what effect does it have on argentina and the world today. he encouraged us to think about the role of argentinian and global society at the time, as well as the pervasive effects of the dictatorship's repression. our experiences listening to witness testimony at court for the "megacausa la perla" every week added another dimension to how we saw the site.

"la cuadra," the area where the kidnapped and disappeared people lived, hundreds at a time. unfortunately, the site was used as a normal military facility for thirty years after the end of the dictatorship and the disappearances. many elements have been changed.

photos on the wall from 1984 depicted how the rooms looked when they were used as a concentration camp.

the guide used this map of córdoba capital and its surrounding to show the sites of the military's illegal repressive facilities, as well as to demonstrate how the disappearances coexisted with daily life in the busy city. on the left is a 16,000-hectacre, military-owned property where perpetrators probably buried the over 2,000 disappeared who were killed at la perla. authorities still have not found any of the bodies, and forensic archaelogists continue to search the vast site.

looking into the military "offices" where captives were interrogated and tortured.

the hall of offices.

the site was beautifully done: there just enough historical context to explain the significance of each area, but most of the focus was on art and memory projects, all beautifully displayed.

a former forced-labor auto workshop (for vehicles used in kidnappings) was converted into an installation of reflective art and poetry by dozens of artists.

"37 Doors" used doors from the site as canvases for 37 different artists to express their grief.

i was most intrigued by the door covered in letters by amnesty international and other international aid groups, requesting that the argentinian government "investigate" kidnappings and disappearances.

too little, too late.

the other side of that door.

another collaborative art installation.

a room dedicated to the pregnant women who disappeared. many of their children have still not been identified; they were likely adopted out to families connected with the regime.

a room identifies all the known perpetrators, including as much information as is known about their role and whereabouts, and highlights whether they've been brought to justice.

a few rooms contain treasured objects of some of the captives, which survive only because the disappeared managed to pass them on to friends in la perla who lived through the experience. this suit was worn by a man on the night he was kidnapped; it's marked with the scars of the violent night. 

perpetrators systematically robbed the kidnapped people, including their wedding rings. one wedding ring was displayed at the memory site because the woman's finger had been injured during her kidnapping, causing it to swell and making removing the ring impossible.

i loved the incorporation of spaces where family members and other visitors were encouraged to interact with the exhibit, to leave their mark. the words left by relatives were perhaps the most moving element of the experience. in fact, while the museum is usually open free to anyone, one day a week is reserved solely for families of victims, so they can have a more private moment at the site.

this room contained names and photos of the 370 identified victims of la perla. the other 2,000 remain unnamed.

i'd be glad to go to la perla again; i would read every inscription and study every photo if i could. it was unforgettable.

x, m

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