Putting Names to Faces

While studying abroad through the William & Mary semester program in Argentina, I’ve been living in the city of La Plata. One of the things that I am doing here is taking classes at el Museo de Arte y Memoria (The Museum of Art and Memory). To get to the museum from my host mom’s house, I end up walking past the art department of la Universidad Nacional de La Plata (The National University of La Plata) almost every day. The department’s building is, naturally, covered in paintings and posters from students.


Picture taken 07/13/2018

The side of the building pictured above had posters for incoming bands and music events. But all over the other sides of the building, there is artwork commemorating students who were disappeared from the University during the dictatorship. In the plaza in front of the art building, the seats were painted in memory of La noche de los lápices (Night of the Pencils), when a group of university students was taken in September of 1976.


Picture taken 07/13/2018

Walking through the streets of La Plata, one sees artwork everywhere in memory of people disappeared. It is a public reminder of the dictatorship and the injustices committed. Many of these paintings show the faces of specific students and young people who were never seen again. It puts faces to the cases referenced in the diplomatic cables that we are reading for this research project. It is one thing to read about people being abducted in unmarked cars decades ago, and another thing to see their faces still present in the artwork on the streets and in the memory of their loved ones in Argentina.

The William & Mary program has a focus on human rights and learning about the dictatorship. Over the semester, we have visited various sites of memory and ex-clandestine detention centers, like the one in Quilmes. Many of the names of these places are names that I see in the diplomatic cables for the research internship with the National Security Archive. Years later, those places still bear the memory of the violence that occurred there. We can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to live then. But the goal of this research and of many human rights groups is to work to make sure that such crimes never happen again. It makes it clear just how important research projects like this one are in writing history.