For many Americans, September 11 is a day memorializing tragedy: the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. It is also the anniversary of another violent event that happened exactly 40 years ago this week: the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende and the violent installation of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. This coup was the beginning of a turbulent and repressive era in the Latin American history. A new exhibit at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies entitled "Memory and Democracy in Latin American Poetry," which opened on Wednesday, looks at artistic works that contextualize this history.
The exhibit, which will be on display through February 15, presents a selection of poems in Portuguese and Spanish. The works in the show come from a diverse ensemble of poets of Chilean, Peruvian, Brazilian, Mexican, El Salvadorian, and Argentine nationality. Some of the poems have been placed on the walls of the DRCLAS offices in the Center for Government and International Studies and on the mirrors in the second-floor restrooms. All are available to visitors in printed format.
"Some poems, we translocated from the page to the wall,” curator of the exhibition, Sergio Delgado, said, who is also professor of romance languages and literatures. “They brought into question the role of walls and public spaces in poetry.”
Wednesday's exhibition reception kicked off a special series of Arts @ DRCLAS events which reflect on the theme of democracy and memory. A talk later this month by Daniel L. Schacter, professor of psychology, will reflect on how the brain forms memories, and an upcoming lecture by Jorge I. Dominguez, vice provost for international affairs, will concentrate on the selective nature of collective memory. The public is also encouraged to submit poetic works that will be published in an anthology.
Merilee S. Grindle, director of DRCLAS, said, "It's hard to imagine a discipline that doesn't have something to say about the connection [between democracy and memory]. Besides the obvious contributions from political science, sociology, and related fields, art, film, poetry, science of the brain, and others all play a role."
"What poetry brings to the table is not just historic documentary but also a sense of play and a sense of song that shouldn't be forgotten," Delagdo said. He admitted the idea of putting together this collection was intimidating. "I won't lie, I was daunted by this intersection, especially in a place as complex as Latin America."
Rather than an exhaustive retrospective on post-1973 poetry, Delgado chose to create an exhibition that is deliberately selective. Speaking before a crowd of university faculty, DRCLAS staff, students, and community members, Delgado said, "This is an expansive collection that will hopefully leave space for you to bring in your views and experiences as scholars of Latin American history." Delgado explained that the poems written by poets who date from the years following the coup spoke to him in particular because of generational effects. He will lead a guided tour of the exhibition on October 18.
"These exhibits are one part of the project. Another aspect of the project is to ask ourselves and scholars how the collective memory of these events have influenced developments in Latin America to this day," Grindle said.
Students in attendance reacted favorably to the exhibition launch. "It's really cool that Harvard has made a space to showcase painful memories of Latin American wars. I'm proud to see there's a civility of these histories; the fact that it's artistic rather than having a head of state to speak, it makes it more accessible and intimate,” Herbert B. Castillo '14 says.
"September 11 means a lot of different things to different people, and this exhibit does a good job of commemorating things we're not confronted with every day. I'm really glad to see the representation of this kind of work at Harvard through artistic outlets," Edward Escalon Jr. '14 says.
—Staff writer Ola Topczewska can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.