In March 1976, a military junta seized control of Argentina, beginning a campaign of state-sponsored terrorism innocuously called the National Reorganization Process. More commonly referred to as the Dirty War, the years between 1976 and 1983 saw the “disappearance” of thousands of Argentinians who were opposed to military rule. Pregnant prisoners were routinely killed after giving birth and their children were put up for adoption. Identidad Desaparecida explores the historic and personal impact of this practice, and the eventual search for and discovery of the missing children, now in adulthood.
Silvia Levenson, aged 19 at the time of the coup, fled Argentina with her partner and two children when she was 23. “What happened between 1976 and 1983 changed my life as it did most Argentineans, and it certainly influenced my artwork,” says Levenson. Central to the exhibition are 121 articles of cast glass clothing representing the grandchildren who have been located and have had their biological identity restored with the help of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, an organization determined to locate the children of the disappeared and return them to their surviving families. Of the at least 500 children that were stolen, 121 have been identified. “The story of the desaparecidos’ children will be pieced together in its entirety once the work of the Abuelas concludes,” explains Levenson. “With great satisfaction, I continue to add pieces of glass clothing. When I started producing the pieces three years ago, there were one hundred and nine resolved cases.” The 121st child was found on October 5, 2016.
Originated in Buenos Aires, Identidad Desaparecida arrives at Bullseye Projects after traveling to Venice, Montevideo, Riga, Tallin, La Plata, Barcelona, and Paris. At each location Levenson has reorganized the exhibition to represent the living story. “At each stop the show took on a particular variation, a different presentation, a distinctive gaze,” says Levenson. “In Buenos Aires, the exhibition was shown inside one of the largest detention centers in the region, the ex-ESMA, a place in which many prisoners gave birth. It was a powerful experience for me, as my aunt, Elsa Rabinovich de Levenson had been imprisoned there before being thrown in the river with other prisoners, all of them desaparecidos.”
In addition to the cast glass clothing, Identidad Desaparecida includes works from throughout Levenson’s career that reflect on missing identity and childhood. “Through this exhibit I have had the occasion to reflect on my personal history. In my work, I continuously return to the period of my existence in Argentina, which profoundly transformed me. It is as if I am trying to be a ‘balm for many wounds,’ as Etty Hillesum wrote during World War II. Through my work I observe those wounds, and I am aware that perhaps the only possible salve is in not forgetting.”
A portion of all sales resulting from this exhibition will be donated to the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo.