For years, the banging of drums, hauling of banners and marching feet of thousands have stepped their way across the famous Plaza de Mayo square in the centre of Buenos Aires.
The 24th March marks a collosal day of bustling, emotive marches for human rights on the Plaza, pleading ‘Memoria,’ (memory) ‘Verdad’ (truth) and ‘Justicia’ (justice), insisting the government and the public never forget the state terrorism that engulfed the entire country from 1976-1983, and that those responsible have their sentences concluded. This year in particular marks 35 years since the golpe de estado, and shows the wounds that Argentina still hold open with the haunting past it holds.
The end of March is a special and moving time for the whole country, as it marks the beginning of a brutal military dictatorship which lasted seven years, from 1976-83. Following the Kirchner administration’s campaign to recognise the importance of public memory, by instating two national holiday days from the 24th-25th to “never forget” those who were disappeared, killed and all affected by the violent regime (which started in 2002); many more spaces for public and private memory have been created.
Aside from marches, there are also various other sites where memory demonstrations and activities are held publically and privately across the country. Over the years many public memorials have been built, including Parque de la Memoria with a huge memorial dedicated to the disappeared, and the ex-navy mechanics schoool the ESMA as a memory site.
Teatro por la identidad: memory and an ongoing identity search
One of the most influential forms of artistic expression during the years of media silence over memory, has in fact been the theatre. The theatre group ‘Teatro Por la Identidad’ (TXI) began in the year 2000, with an objective to work alongside Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (one of the protagonist human rights group’s still fighting for their loved ones to be returned to them) in their search for the missing children of the disappeared. Head of the Abuelas Estela Carlotto and her team have dedicated themselves to finding the children of captives, who were born inside the concentration camps, and stolen from their parents (believed to be around 500).
TXI is made up of a group of people who come from many different backgrounds. Actors, musicians, producers, technicians, scenery artists all work together to communicate messages of hope for those who still haven’t found their identity but have doubts, while also bringing to light testimonies of those who discovered their relation to someone affected by the regime. Grouped together were a set of different drama works, some in aid of remembering, others initially helping to boost the search of the Abuelas.
Every year the theatre group holds a programme of different theatre works for the period of about a month, usually every Monday, across different theatres in Buenos Aires and in other national theatres around the country. Some are plays with a large cast, short plays with a smaller cast, some duologues, monologues, testimonies and speeches, usually built into a mixed programme; with no admission fee.
The idea from the start was to provide theatre sending a message of memory letting people tell their stories, whilst continuing the promotion of the Abuelas search. Their drama works are written and performed by both professional and amateurs in the field.
I first went to see TXI in 2005, in a downtown theatre in Buenos Aires, and was surprised by its honesty. By talking about the military regime, disappeared persons and concentration camps, one might get the notion that going to see TXI could be more of a downer. Obviously it depends on the bill you go to see, not all of the programmes are same. Some tell stories in a positive light while some include comedy sketches. What is nice about the shows is that they aren’t overtly complicated by glitz, it’s honest theatre. The spaces they choose are normally quite small, and intimate, letting the audience really connect with the action.
In 2010, TXI celebrated their tenth anniversary, and hosted a month’s worth of theatre shows across the country in aid of their cause. During their ten years of existence they have spread across Argentina and hold arts centres in Bariloche, Rosario, Paraná, Chaco, Tucumán, Morón and Córdoba, to name a few. Internationally they have received wide attention, particularly from México, where many Argentines exiled to during and after the military regime. They also have centres in Madrid, Cataluña, Barcelona, and Uruguay. In 2009 they were recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), being awarded a prize for theatre and their contribution to memory in society.
They have a published book on the story of their organisation and works with Ediciones Colihue and have released dvds available for educational purposes.
Over the course of March they have held a few shows, but largely repeating past plays. The new cycle for 2011 is now being planned, and the central office is looking for fresh scripts and stories, with their criteria now published on their website. They will begin to accept new material from 5th April on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s until the 27th. They are to present their new cycle of theatre works in August this year, programmed for Monday nights across Buenos Aires.