“Memory and Justice: Impressions of Disappearance in Argentina,” an exhibition of photography by Estelle Disch at the S & G Project Gallery in the Hatch Street Studios in New Bedford’s north end, captures her experience and witnessed perspective of the aftermath of Argentina’s historic tragedy of Los Desaparecidos (The Disappeared), those who vanished after the March 24, 1976 coup when the military junta seized power in Argentina. The Junta launched a campaign to wipe out left-wing terrorism resulting in thousands of dissidents and, innocent civilians unconnected with terrorism, who were arrested.
Many of them vanished or, disappeared, without a trace. They became known as los desaparecidos and fell victim to a methodic use of torture and murder.
Disch’s exhibit, which runs from April 20 to May 15, explores the space of one of the sites of the tragedy of the disappeared that lasted from 1976 until 1983. The site, the former Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (aka ex ESMA), was one of the most notorious torture and disappearance centers.
An estimated 5,000 people were processed here while only about 200 detainees emerged. The others are counted among the 30,000 of Argentina’s disappeared.
Disch’s current photographic work is digital. It’s focused on abstract designs, altered colors, textures, and often trees.
“I transform my own photographs, sometimes rendering the originals unrecognizable. The finished images often look more like paintings than photographs, with unique layering and texturing.”
“In my Memory and Justice Project — Impressions of Disappearance and Torture: The former Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires, these images are my artistic response to a deeply haunting place and the terrifying memories it holds.
“While there, I wander the site, trying to make sense of what happened. I despair at the fact that humans connected to this place stole newborns from the arms of their mothers and pushed people alive from cargo planes into the river and the sea.
“I marvel at the fact that anyone emerged alive. And I rejoice at the fact that many of the children born there and placed in illegal adoptions have been located and now know their real identities.”
All profit from sale of these images will be donated to The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, an organization dedicated to locating the estimated 500 children stolen during the dictatorship. They have thus far located 128 of the children. To learn more or to donate directly, visit abuelas.org.ar.
In 2004, the site was declared a Memory and Human Rights Space and human rights organizations now have displays and archives in many buildings. Educational placards line the roadways offering stories about the disappeared and historical information about the dictatorship and the justice that followed.
(Estelle Disch: Memory and Justice: Impressions of Disappearance in Argentina” can be seen from April 20 through May 17 at S & G Project Gallery, 88 Hatch St. 306A, New Bedford, Massachusetts. An artist talk will be held on Saturday, April 20 at 4:30 p.m., followed by an opening reception from 5-8 p.m. A closing reception will take place on Friday, May 17, from 5-8 p.m. For more information, call (774) 279-2606 or visit sandgprojectgallery.com.)