Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos: Never forgetting

West: past the centre’s dusty administrative buildings, past the provincial charm of Barrio Brazil’s lazy streets, past the sleepy passages of Barrio Yungay and the beautiful colonial palaces, lies the green-laden park of Quinta Normal. Here where men and dogs alike rest in the grass, away from the bustling streets, in a neighborhood that already feels like another world, solemnly stands the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, one of Santiago's most iconoclastic museums.

 Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos
Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos

The building, a project of Brazilian architects, was inaugurated in 2010. However, the idea of creating a museum dedicated to the victims of the 17-year Chilean military dictatorship dates back much further-- to the 1991 publication of the Rettig Report and the subsequent political action of the transición presidents, Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet, who both called for the construction of a place of remembrance. The museum is as much the product of political influence as it is proof of Chilean citizens’ commitment to have their stories heard. Since Chilean amnesty laws still cover some of the junta protagonists, the creation of the Museum has a double purpose-- as an act of reparation, as well as on an international educational level, ensuring that the memory of these events is never forgotten. Torture victims and relatives of the dead or disappeared organized after 1990 and together formed ‘Casa de la Memoria,’ an association which gathered testimonies and evidence documenting life during Pinochet's regime. This archive now represents the bulk of the Museum’s permanent collection.

 Alfredo Jaar, Geometria de la Conciencia (2010)
Alfredo Jaar, Geometria de la Conciencia (2010)

Visiting the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is a somber, emotional experience. The contemporary architecture of the museum offers four-levels of thematic and chronological exhibitions . The museum’s ground floor acknowledges the role that the Truth and Reconciliation Report played for the country. The first floor focuses on the 1970s-- the first decade of the dictatorship considered by experts as the most repressive. The museum has cleverly chosen to abstain from any comments and instead lets their vast archive of multimedia images and personal testimonies speak for itself. Some of the objects shown are quite gripping such as the recreation of a torture chamber featuring an electric rod and other items used by secret agents to make inmates speak. The second floor allows the visitor to travel back in time and offers an impressively vivid recontextualization of the last years of the dictatorship. The deep ideological divisions within the country during that time are particularly well-illustrated by the series of campaign video clips documenting the 1989 national plebiscite, a call to vote “SI or NO” in support or opposition of an additional eight years being added to Pinochet's rule. The third floor, has a space dedicated to temporary exhibitions on the themes of the creation of memory, historical legacy and national reconciliation.

On top of this, two contemporary artists were commissioned to produce permanent works for the museum. The first, a mural by Jorge Tacla entitled 'Al mismo tiempo, en el mismo lugar' commemorates the life of Victor Jarra, the important Chilean folk musician who was detained and died at the hand of the military in Santiago’s Estadio Nacional during the early days of the coup. The second work is an immersive installation by Alfredo Jaar called 'Geometría de la Conciencia' that raises important questions regarding the cultural trauma of Pinochet’s rule having become a legacy which has been inherited by not only direct victims, but by all Chileans, and must be acknowledged and dealt with on a national level.

 Fernando Botero, Abu Ghraib 66 (2005)
Fernando Botero, Abu Ghraib 66 (2005)

The museum's ambition is to stand as the collective memory of its country’s violent past, whilst providing a wider perspective as an international watch guard and a whistle-blower for new occurrences of violent practices within abusive regimes. Within this framework, visitors of the Museo de la Memoria can currently view the temporary exhibition, 'Botero Abu Ghraib', featuring paintings and drawings by the contemporary Colombian artist Fernando Botero. In 2004, Botero saw the first newspaper images of torture that had leaked out from the US-controlled prison of Abu Ghraib in Iraq. In his own voluptuous style, Botero graphically-portrayed scenes of water-boarding, sexual degradation and the constant climate of fear that had been created within this U.S. military prison. These images of Iraqi inmates depicted by Botero echo the museum's own documentation of the treatment of Chilean inmates during the Pinochet years.

In a 2003 speech regarding human rights, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos exclaimed, “No hay mañana sin ayer” (There is no tomorrow without yesterday). Staying true to this aphorism, the Museo de la Memoria stands to ensure that the horrors of the past have no tomorrows.

Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos
Matucana 501
Metro: Quinta Normal
Telephone (562) 597 96 00

Price: By donations
Opened Tuesday-Sunday

Exhibition Botero Abu Ghraib
Opened Monday-Sunday
10.00 – 18.00
Until 24th June 2012

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