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The tangible memory of María Verónica

By Romina Chuls

One of La Revista editors sat down with the Chilean artist Maria Veronica San Martin on September 30th. Her work explores the impacts of history, memory, and trauma through archives, artist books, installations, sculptures, and performances. The interview Maria Veronica had with Antonieta Landa llega a mi through a Whatsapp chat. I hear them laughing, sharing complicity I strongly desire to be part of. The recording of their voices allows me to become an earwitness of their encuentro. As I listen to Maria Veronica’s descriptions of her work, I’m taken on a journey y comienzo a recordar algo nunca vivido.

The espíritus of our loved ones disappeared in authoritarian governments walked our lands. They are standing next to my family, to my neighbors, whispering about a past left outside the main channels of history. Whispering, singing, asking us to recall. But memory is a funny thing. In the mists of neoliberalism’s sterility and its violent practice of privatization, algunxs have started to demand ownership of memory. Like other ones had no place in remembering. So I wonder, to whom does la memoria de los desaparecidxs belongs?

Who gets to remember?

María Verónica loads her books with memories. The photos of lxs desaparecidxs penan las hojas. Lxs espiritus están presentes. Who dares to ask for jurisdiction over them?


In the presentation of the last number of Terremoto, titled Cabeza de Tierra, Duen Sachi  reflects on the construction of memory, existing as fiction, and as a way to tell the stories of the ones not included in history. Snatch the pen from the hand of power to imagine their stories, they exist in those words, that perform as spells.

“Eso es encontrar la manera de contar las historias de les sin historia, leer la escritura de les sin descanso, la marcha de las abuelas y madres buscando a sus hijes en la calle, la danza de las travestis que sobreviven en las cárceles, el llamado a despertar encantades, levantando el puño, juntando saliva, tejiendo trenzas, conjurando estrellas, hablando con hongos, cantando.” (Quote pirateada from Terremoto’s website)

Maria Veronica invokes the stories of les sin descanso in the book MEMORY AND LANDSCAPE: UNVEILING THE HISTORIC TRUTH OF CHILE [2013-2015]. She draws the faces with charcoal into translucent paper, letting other sheets copy the drawn image. The portraits faint, becoming ghostly as the paper loses the charcoal powder. The disappearance repeats itself in a performance of loss, of forgetting. Maybe that action lives as a duel, maybe is the call Duen Sachi mentions in Cabeza de Tierra, that call to wake up juntxs, in anti-colonial dances.

Lxs espiritus están presentes. Maybe it wasn’t about remembering but about listening. Maria Veronica’s books are habitable memorials that confront the violence of silence. When she was working on IN THEIR MEMORY: HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION IN CHILE, 1973-1990 at Corcoran Gallery of Art and Museum  which closed in 2014, she was confronted daily with an institutional symbol of putrid imperialism, the White House, an entity that had great influence in Pinochet’s military coup. Ma Verónica was born during Pinochet’s dictatorship. It shaped her childhood and now, after migrating, a symbol of her past imposed itself. What does it mean to recall from exile? Can memory suffer dislocation? The portraits that the book Maria Veronica created while in Washington DC, hold, and not only conjure the histories left buried in the exploded soil of her/their territories, but also remind us, constantly, of the United States' responsibility in one of the most violent dictatorships in Latin America.

“Chile vivió un estado de silencio" says the artist in a video where the process of Memory and Landscape is shown. So now she is loud. A loudness is perceived not only in the images of her books, of giving space to grief and protest but also a loudness found in the sounds produced by her processes. The murmur produced by charcoal powder filling from the paper to reveal a face, the sound from metal sculptures in her piece COLONIA DIGNIDAD, work created during her residency at the Whitney Museum  ISP in collaboration with The Chilean National Archive, the Association of Memory and Human Rights Colonia Dignidad  and Winfried Hempel. These metal sculptures make haunting sounds when moving in a representation of power, or maybe, in an attempt to exorcize the colonial dynamics of the spaces we inhabit, of her native country. It is a sound that evidences the brutality of power to then expel it from our bodies. It makes us wonder if the sound holds memory. How much is lost in how we approach history if we are not considering this? Is the metal sound holding the stories of lxs sin descanso?

Which are the sounds being produced in the territories where justice has not been found? Could it be possible to recognize the echo of the struggles of lxs desaparecidxs if you put your ear into the ground? Do you hear their whispers when passing the pages of Ma Veronica’s book? How we relate to her books, how we open them, and the time we take to look at the images makes me wonder if lxs desaparecidxs are shaping our movements. Are these habitable memorials redefining how we will remember in the future? To see los rostros of our disappeared ones opens a channel to see our community in all its shades and to recognize completely the land on where we stand. Maybe the book will deteriorate with time, reminding us about the fragility of the practice of remembering. A friend once told me that when you remember you are not recalling that first event/experience that comes to your mind but the last time you remembered
the “original” event. Such as the distance became larger and larger each time. The process of disappearing repeats itself but, in this case, affects in different ways our memories, our future, each time we explore Ma Verónica’s books. The agency this practice has scapes the logic of power.


Lxs espíritus están presentes.

"DIGNIDAD" Courtesy of the artist


"IN THEIR MEMORY Courtesy of the artist

"IN THEIR MEMORY Courtesy of the artist

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