During my last weeks in Buenos Aires, I visited the Fundación Espigas’s Document Center on the History of the Visual Arts in Argentina and got the chance to interview Delia Cancela, one of my favorite artists from the Centro de Artes Visuales of the Instituto Di Tella.
Argentina is unfortunately known for being rather negligent when it comes to building up and preserving archives. In that context, the work of Fundación Espigas is especially praiseworthy. Created in 1993, it has undertaken to gather and protect all Argentine art-related documents at home and abroad. Their archive has been very helpful for my research on Argentine artists who emigrated to France in the late sixties/early seventies. I visited Espigas’s offices in Recoleta and spent days looking for information and all sorts of documents related to Alfredo Arias, Delia Cancela, Roberto Plate, Juan Stoppani, and David Lamelas. Old interviews or articles published in magazines and newspapers, invitations to openings in Buenos Aires, Paris or New York -a whole range of materials unlikely to be found at any other place than Fundación Espigas.
I met with Delia Cancela at her beautiful house in the neighborhood of Colegiales. As soon as we started talking, even during a very casual, informal conversation, I felt the need to record Delia’s opinions, stories, and reflections. She said she’s fascinated by people of letters because she’s never been “good with words” herself. I turn the pages of a heavy book containing her wonderful artpieces and note how many of them include names, quotes, and all kinds of phrases. I wish I was that good with words, I think, and listen. She has a lot to tell. She’s been one of the “pop stars” from the Di Tella Institute in Buenos Aires. In the late sixties, along with her long-time partner Pablo Mesejean, she moved to London, where their art creations (some of them in the form of clothes) attracted the attention of the Fashion popes of the moment. A few months into their stay in the city they were contributing regularly for Vogue and by the mid-seventies Pablo and Delia had become a cult Fashion house both in London and in Paris.
Drawing by Argentine writer, actor and cartoonist Copi in homage to his close friend Juan Stoppani -materials like this give as a hint of the links and the fruitful exchanges among these Argentine exiles in France.
My second interview during my stay in Buenos Aires was with Juan Stoppani, another relevant artist from the Instituto Di Tella who moved to Paris by the end of the sixties. As a member of Groupe TSE, created by Alfredo Arias, Stoppani started a career as a costume and stage designer. Throughout the seventies and the eighties, Stoppani continued to work in theater under the direction of Jean Louis Barrault, Jerôme Savary, Roland Petit, and Jorge Lavelli, among others. The curtain he designed for the play Le frigo by his close friend Copi, in 1984, attracted a great deal of interest.
After many decades of living abroad, Stoppani returned to Buenos Aires and lives now in a sort of Mundo Stoppani, an old beautiful house in the neighborhood of La Boca, fully renovated according to his personal style and peopled by works of art -all of them his own creations- dispersed in every single room, in every single wall. Continue reading
"Nunca mas" Never Again--the title of Argentina's human rights' report on the victims of the Dirty War. Part of the memorial dedicated to the victims of the Cromagnon Fire.
It has become clear to me that the Luis Viale fire was, at its moment, very important in bringing the existence of slave labor and undocumented immigration into the spotlight, albeit for a limited time.
One of the issues that was publicly revealed through the fire was the existing extensive network that smuggled immigrants, mostly Bolivian though not exclusively, to Buenos Aires to live and work in these clandestine textile shops. From what I can see, at the time of the fire, oddly enough, Argentine newspapers were giving lots of coverage to George Bush’s 2006 proposed Guest Worker Plan, and the criminalization of the undocumented in the United States, without a mention of the country’s own increasingly problematic status with respect to its undocumented residents. However, within a month of the fire, national legislation was launched called Plan Patria Grande, intended to facilitate the legalization of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the surrounding countries that include but are not limited to Bolivia, Uruguay and Chile. I was told by an attorney that works for the Ombudsman to the City of Buenos Aires that one of the problems with the execution/implementation of this legislation among the Bolivian sweatshop workers (among them the 50 some survivors of the fire) was that it required participants to provide government documentation from their home country. This was a nearly impossible condition for many of these workers to fulfill given that they had had this documentation taken away from them when they were trafficked into the country. There were also multiple allegations from the Bolivian community that the Bolivian Consulate had committed to facilitate and assist the victims in obtaining this paperwork but was in fact overcharged and drew out the process. President Morales replaced the head consul shortly thereafter. Continue reading
The starting point for my research was the work of Argentine writer Washington Cucurto. I intended to interview him during my stay in Buenos Aires but very soon I learned that he is notoriously hard to get in touch with. While very well-known for his novels—most of which are about the lives of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Paraguay and the northern regions of Argentina in Buenos Aires—Cucurto’s most famous project is Eloisa Cartonera. Founded in 2003, Eloisa Cartonera is an independent non-profit publishing cooperative working out of la Boca. They buy cardboard from urban collectors or “cartoneros” to make hand-made and hand painted books. These texts are given to Eloisa Cartonera by a great number of Latin American Writers and the beautiful, one of a kind editions are sold for as little as 8 Argentinean pesos or 2 US dollars. Wanting to know more about the project and hoping maybe to run into Cucurto at the workshop, I visited their space in la Boca and got to see first hand how the cooperative works.
Across the street from one of the entrances to the mythical La Bombonera stadium, home of the Club Atlético Boca Juniors, colorful windows invite you into the workshop space where the coop members cut and paint the cardboard and put together the books. Washington Cucurto’s novels showcase a multicultural Buenos Aires, something that seems to be at the heart of the Eloisa Cartonera project, not only in terms of the books they’re publishing but also in how the space works. Aside from being primarily interested in distributing the work of authors from all over Latin America, the Eloisa Cartonera workshop space also serves as a sort of community center in la Boca. During my short visit, kids, mostly of Paraguayan and Bolivian descent, would drop in, say hi, chatted about football and offered to help paint. At one point, a neighbor joined in the conversation with his bilingual parrot, who spoke both spanish and guaraní, like many of the members of the community. While I did not get a chance to speak to Washington Cucurto, visiting Eloisa Cartonera gave me great insight into his work, helping me to better understand the Buenos Aires that he creates in his pages, one where the geographical and cultural frontiers between the Caribbean, Bolivia, Paraguay and the north of Argentina (to start with) are blurred.
Posted by Cristel Jusino Díaz — PhD Candidate in Spanish at NYU
Part of the mural dedicated to the victims of the sweatshop fire at 1269 Luis Viale. "No olvidamos" "Con el maltrato, no hay trato"
A view of the whole mural and the burned out building
On March 30th, 2006, a fire in a clandestine textile workshop on Calle Luis Viale in the working class neighborhood of Caballito, Buenos Aires, killed five children and one woman, all of whom were undocumented Bolivians living and working with 50 some other immigrants in the building. My project is to try to understand the way this fire was constructed in the media, the ways the Bolivian garment worker community, and various other actors responded to the tragedy and why they responded in the way/s they did. I am also interested in learning what, if anything, has changed as a result of the fire, as well as the way it has been remembered subsequently.
I have been in Buenos Aires for almost two weeks now. This is my first time here so this time has been as much about getting oriented, and learning to use the bus and subway, as it has been about starting to reach out to potential contacts.
Earlier this week, I spoke with the members of a workers’ cooperative, called Alameda. There seem to be several immigrant garment workers’ groups in the city and Alameda is one of the most vocal and politically active and had submitted testimony and evidence to the city about several illegal and exploitative garment shops even prior to the fire. Olga Cruz, one of the original organizers (alongside the president Gustavo Vera), spoke at length to me about the challenges facing immigrant workers in their search to making a decent living and the issues of corruption, particularly related to the collaboration of the police force and labor inspectors with the workshop owners, that allows this kind of exploitation to exist. Alameda has also formed its own garment clothing chain, along with a worker’s cooperative in Thailand.I am looking forward to attending one of Alameda’s worker meetings tonight. Continue reading
Memorial plaque at Urzante exhumation site
At the end of June, I attended a conference in Madrid that addressed many of the social, political, historical, and ethical debates emerging in response to the excavation of mass graves and the exhumation and identification of victims of political violence in Spain. Organized by anthropologist Francisco Ferrándiz (CSIC, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicos), “Bajo Tierra” brought together a wide range of experts from across disciplinary fields in order to discuss the impact that forensic investigations of Francoist political violence have had – and are continuing to have – on contemporary Spanish memory politics. For someone relatively new to the study of the Spanish historical memory movement, the three-day conference was an excellent opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of the social and political complexities that surround the application of forensic science to the study of the recent past.
For conference organizers, participants, and audience members, the symposium was also an opportunity to reflect on how different kinds of research protocols have evolved since the year 2000, when public support for exhumations first began to grow, thus breaking the long pact of silence put forth by an amnesty agreement made between political factions during the democratic transition. In this sense, the conference was also an opportunity for those active in the historical memory movement to take stock of the different kinds of achievements made both within and without the realm of academia and to critically discuss new challenges that currently are emerging under Spain’s new, ever-changing memory landscape. Although the exhumations occurring in Spain and the memory politics surrounding them were the main focus of the symposium, the conference also sought to situate the exhumation of “Franco’s graves” within a cross-national, comparative perspective. Due to my own interest in the similarities and differences between post-dictatorship memory politics in Latin America’s Southern Cone and that of Spain, it was interesting to see the ways in which different strategies for historically, socially, politically, and judicially addressing violent pasts in Argentina and Chile have been situated as successful models for addressing Spain’s history of political violence. Continue reading
These are the porcelain cakes Arias is showing at his art exhibit "Patria Petrona", a homage to the most famous Argentine chef ever, Doña Petrona.
In my first year as a PhD student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at NYU (2010-2011) I’ve developed a strong and consistent interest in Argentine writers and artists who emigrated to Paris in the sixties and early seventies. My examples draw from both well-known and obscure writers, including Alejandra Pizarnik, Edgardo Cozarinsky, Copi, Sylvia Molloy, Raúl Escari, and Javier Arroyuelo, as well as visual artists like Roberto Plate, Alfredo Arias, and Juan Stoppani.
Although I’ve already started my research in New York, traveling to Argentina has been incredibly helpful to carry on with the project. Many of the authors and artists in question are currently living in Buenos Aires, which has allowed me the great opportunity to meet with and interview them. I have already been in touch with Edgardo Cozarinsky and Javier Arroyuelo, and interviewed Alfredo Arias and Juan Stoppani.
I’ve been in Buenos Aires for a few weeks, my trip was delayed because of the volcanic ash cloud that shut down most of the airports in the Río de la Plata region. I’m here researching cultural exchanges between the Caribbean and the Río de la Plata and so far, it’s been a very productive and surprising experience. I’ve been working closely with the wonderful faculty and staff at NYU Buenos Aires. The center’s director, Alvaro Fernández Bravo, has done extensive work on the concept of redes culturales (cultural webs) in Latin America. Our conversations, along with his suggestions of texts, have been instrumental in helping me begin to give this project shape. On his recommendation, I went to the Instituto de Literatura Hispanoamericana at the Universidad de Buenos Aires where I met with professors Elsa Noya andNoé Jitrik, both who work on Caribbean literature and culture.
Originally, I had planned to focus on the Caribbean roots of the Neobarroco in Argentina, specifically on the influence of Severo Sarduy on various Argentine writers but conversations with professors at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, before arriving in Buenos Aires, led me to an earlier connection between Cuba and Argentina. In 1946, Virgilio Piñera arrived in Buenos Aires for the first of three extended visits. His time here was extremely significant for various reasons, the most well-known being his participation in the translation committee of Ferdydurke, a novel by polish writer Witold Gombrowicz who took up residence in Buenos Aires during World War II. Their efforts to publish and promote Ferdydurke led them to meet and work with writers such as Ernesto Sábato and Macedonio Fernández. At the Instituto de Literatura Hispanoamericana, I have been working with materials that highlight these connections, the most interesting of these being the magazines Piñera published in, both in Buenos Aires and in Cuba.
Posted by Cristel M. Jusino Díaz — PhD Candidate in Spanish and Portuguese at NYU
With my time in Argentina coming to an end, I decided to make a trip to the city of Posadas. Located about 13 hours to the northwest of Buenos Aires in the province of Misiones, Posadas may be considered the center of yerba mate production. In Argentina, yerba mate is only grown in a small portion of the country including the north of Corrientes province and Misiones. Thus Posadas, as the provincial capital of Misiones, depends in a large way on the success of the yerba industry as it is heavily involved in the commercial side of production. The National Institute of Yerba Mate (INYM) and the tourist organization Ruta de la Yerba Mate are both located here along with the headquarters of all the major producers and smaller collectives. Interestingly, the yerba producing group Amanda is all over the place, sponsoring several of the major bus lines and even has a prominent running advertisement in the main international airport. This company’s financial power and stake in the economic success of yerba should not be underestimated.
During my last few weeks in Buenos Aires, I interacted with the murga troupe Cachengue y Sudor in various ways. I observed a rehearsal in Plaza 24 de Septiembre in Capital Federal (where the troupe has been rehearsing for almost 10 years), participated in several social gatherings at the homes of various murgueros, attended a party to raise funds for Cachengue y Sudor, sat in on a meeting of the Movimiento de Murgas Independientes (Movement of Independent Murgas), met with an Argentinian scholar who has studied murgas in Buenos Aires, and concluded my series of face-to-face interviews with murgueros in Cachengue y Sudor.