The inspiration behind the photographic installation Identidad, which opened in Buenos Aires in 1998, rested on a simple hope: Among the crowds of visitors, at least one young person would discover his or her true identity. Enlarged snapshots of couples and women detained and disappeared in Argentina between 1976 and 1983, who gave birth in prison or whose small children were disappeared along with them, lined the winding corridors of the exhibition. A mirror inserted between family pairs represented the missing child. Beneath the photographs a small text reported the details of arrest and any available facts about the child’s fate.
This special exhibit was commissioned by Las Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo (the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo), in collaboration with the Centro Cultural Recoleta, in their ongoing effort to recover their stolen grandchildren. For more than thirty years, these courageous older women have struggled to keep alive the memory of their disappeared sons and daughters as well as to locate their lost grandchildren, who, in one of the more sinister twists of Argentina’s dirty war, were adopted and raised by the very military officials involved in torturing and murdering their parents. In the late 1990s, Las Abuelas initiated artistic outreach campaigns to attract younger audiences with the realization that they were no longer looking for infants but rather young adults, not so different in age from their disappeared parents. Identidad emerged from the collaboration of thirteen Argentine artists who sought to assist Las Abuelas through an artistic display designed around the possibility that, when confronted with the images of their real parents, these young people, with no knowledge of their true past, might actually recognize themselves and find their true identity.
And several of them did. Through names left anonymously at the 1998 opening of Identidad, three cases of disappeared grandchildren were resolved and three families reunited.
Identidad returned to Buenos Aires in September 2006 as part of a larger exhibition titled The Disappeared/Los Desaparecidos. Curated by North Dakota Museum of Art director Laurel Reuter, this poignant and powerful display brought together works by twenty-seven contemporary artists from seven Latin American countries, reflecting through art the state-sponsored terror that engulfed the continent in the late twentieth century. The exhibition arrived at New York’s El Museo del Barrio in February and ran through mid-June. US audiences will next have an opportunity to see The Disappeared in conjunction with human rights events in Santa Fe this October. The exhibition will then travel to Chile and Colombia, before opening in September 2009 at the Art Museum of the Americas (OAS) in Washington, DC–where it is sure to revive the unsolved issue of the thousands who remain disappeared in Latin America.