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Accepted Paper:

'We Did Not Know' - León Ferrari's Art and the Daunting Awareness of Evil  


Katja Seidel (Maynooth University)

Paper short abstract:

The Argentinian state terror, the Holocaust and the Church are at the centre of Leon Ferrari's photographic collages. Drawing on his work, I explore the relational meaning of visualisations of genocide that create a daunting awareness of evil and testify to art's transformative power.

Paper long abstract:

In 2011, during my fieldwork with Jewish Austrian-Argentinian Holocaust Survivors and the children of the disappeared in Tucumàn, Argentina, I visited the exhibition "Nosotros no sabíamos" by reknown artist León Ferrari, himself father of a disappeared son. In it, newspaper clippings from 1976 and photographic collages connected the European Holocaust, the Argentine State terror and the Catholic Church in the unsettling horror of evil, as the deeply affective exhibition disputed the "we did not know" narrative and made visible the inferno of genocidal regimes. In this paper I draw on the artists' work to tease out how art can help us understand patterns of state violence and genocide, and how his photographic collages emphasise justice, memory and non-repetition beyond evidence. Attending to the visual as a presence, a communicative avenue and an affective medium, I analyse the relational meaning of new 'ways of seeing' (Berger 1972) that create awareness of global patterns of violence and self-reflection. Following Rose (2001) in that visual renderings are never innocent, I furthermore discuss the way in which the visual politics of genocide, and especially comparisons with the Holocaust, helped activists and victims to create narratives for justice and memory that not only look at the past but seek to engage a future of global connections. Beyond individual or national borders and the significant differences in the genocidal practices in Argentina and elsewhere, I argue that art such as Ferrari's work affects those who dare to look with a daunting awareness of empathy and responsibility.

Panel P106
Provoking Visuals: Creative Engagements with Borders, Wars, and Conflicts [PACSA Network]