Arts & Entertainment

Photo portraits breaking down lengthy silence about Uruguayan dictatorship

By Federico Anfitti

Montevideo, May 17 (EFE).- The stories of many of the people “disappeared” during Uruguay’s 1973-1985 civil-military dictatorship and the images that in 2020 were on posters all over Uruguay are moving into the virtual world and to an open-air photo-gallery in a new edition of the March of Silence, this time in the middle of a pandemic and thus without many people on the streets.

On the Luisa Cuesta Plaza, named for one of the most iconic figures in the Mothers and Relatives of Disappeared Detainees group who died in 2018 at age 98 without learning the whereabouts of her son, photographer Federico Panizza and camerawoman Elena Boffetta spoke with EFE about the collection of images from the Silence.

With the idea of demonstrating “the ongoing nature of the struggle for justice, for truth and asking where they are,” within the framework of the march held every May 20 in downtown Montevideo in memory of the disappeared, the collective will display on its social network pages and in a photo-gallery its project for 2020 titled “196 embraces against oblivion.”

Although at that time Uruguayan celebrities such as soccer coach Oscar Washington Tabarez and musicians Ruben Rada and Jorge Drexler posed with posters showing photos of the 196 disappeared, this time the project will virtually highlight the people who are supporting the cause and exhibit the work of local and international photographers who recorded on film the moments when the celebrities first connected with their respective disappeared person.

“What we wanted to do was, using a well-known face, get people to ask themselves: What’s going on? To reveal that it’s not just a poster but rather that it was a person who was arrested and disappeared by the dictatorship, by the Uruguayan state,” Panizza said.

The coronavirus pandemic forced organizers in 2020 to transform the traditional silent march into shouts from homes or on the social networks and it’s anticipated that this year the online presence will increase.

Images of the Silence, a collective founded in 2014, not only emotionally moved thousands of people who sought to do their bit by posting on the social networks alongside the photos of the disappeared, but also the photographers who documented what occurred during the past year.

Thus, this May 20 an exposition will be set up on a public square by the Photography Center of Montevideo, where images of the impact and repercussions from the March of Silence – from the viewpoint of different professionals – will be displayed.

There, distributed on 27 panels, 45 photographs – including some taken by EFE photographers – will reflect the feelings awakened by each photograph.

In 2020, thousands of posters with some of the 196 faces were posted on walls around the country. Uruguayans adorned their homes, their balconies and flat surfaces around their neighborhoods with symbols of the movement.

The social networks – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – took up the fight and Images of the Silence decided this year to bring its photos to the virtual world.

Boffetta was one of those tasked with filming the moments when each person got ready to be photographed with their respective disappeared victim.

The “behind the scenes” situation, the reactions of the celebrities upon coming face to face with the missing person’s image, listening to the story about that person and getting ready to pose in front of the cameras are depicted on the videos posted on the social networks.

“We want to show a little of that process so that people get inside the sessions and after that we ask them a question, which was: What did you feel when you embraced that poster of that disappeared person?” she said.

Boffetta is Italian. She came to Uruguay to work and quickly identified herself with a struggle to which she is seeking to give international attention.

“The issue of the disappeared, of dictatorial governments, it’s completely international. Human rights, fighting against those governments, continuing to keep alive the memory of the people who disappeared, fighting for what’s just and true are not things that can be pursued in just one country. It has to be everyone’s fight,” she emphasized.

This year, all the initiatives will become virtual and Images of the Silence each day is publishing photographs of the repercussions of the 2020 project with the idea of getting more and more people to identify with the cause.

“Today, we’re all embracing that loved one who belongs to everyone. We all understand that that is not only and exclusively something for the mothers and relatives; in a certain way, we are taking it from their hands so that it becomes all of ours,” Panizza said.


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