A genealogy of affective politics

Visual practices of dissidence in post-dictatorial South America


When talking about memorial politics, especially in South America, it is almost impossible to dismiss and consequently not to acknowledge affective politics as the non-institutional origin of memorial politics. In this article I specifically refer to the last military dictatorships in South America during the decades of the 1970’s and 1980’s. During this period state terrorism was implemented and many people, mostly youngsters, were tortured, murdered and victims of enforced disappearance. The enforced disappearance practice resulted in the birth of the victims’ relatives groups, which in time became a social struggle for truth and justice (as they call it). The first term, truth, demands the state to clarify and investigate the circumstances in which the people disappeared. While the second term, justice, refers to the amnesty of the military junta (Colectivo Cultural Entreletras 2006star (* 6 )).

Within the genealogy of affective politics exists a continuation or a common thread (if not even a convergence), between guerrilla visual practice and the struggle of the relatives of the disappeared, which also achieves an intense use of visuals. This same convergence becomes what we in the present day know as memorial politics in its complexities, in which the governmental politics of memory and civilian practices are inextricably melted together (especially in case of Argentina, where the Instituto de la Memoria/Ex-ESMA*1 *( 1 ) is one of the most illustrative examples of this kind of politics).

In fact, if we consider the approach and strategies of the main movements for political dissidence opposing the last dictatorial regimes in Uruguay (such as the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional – Tupamaros and 26 de Marzo), Argentina (i.e. ERP-People’s Revolutionary Army) and Chile (i.e. MIR –Moviemiento Izquierda Revolucionaria), we might already notice how fundamental the role of affect and some kind of artistic-performative practices were.

The huge alphabetization work carried out in Argentina’s poorest suburbs and rural areas as well as in the famous Cárcel del pueblo (the people’s jail) in Uruguay are two among various applications of performative pedagogy and “reality-theater” strategies. Thus, we might claim that the latter were used in order to get attention, create a proactive audience that would, at best, become an actor or supporter of political change.

The Uruguayan artist and theorist Luis Camnitzer suggests in his book Didáctica de la liberación (Camnitzer 2009star (* 5 )) a brilliant and innovative reading of Tupamaros political practices as artistic activism. Camnitzer highlights the context in which art slips into political activism as well as the incredibly high percentage of artists who took part in the movement and who played a fundamental role in applying (more or less consciously) artistic approaches directly to guerrilla action.

From a historic perspective Tupamaros re-contextualized guerrilla (by definition a rural practice) into an urban context. Because of the geographical condition of the country which is almost completely flat, and more importantly has only one big city, Montevideo, in which more than 60 percent of the population lives, a classical guerrilla would never have worked. So Tupamaros were obliged to adapt a guerrilla into the urban context of the capital*2 *(2 ). This implied an almost ontological redefinition of guerrilla itself. According to Camnitzer this redefinition was implemented by the direct juxtaposition of artistic/visual tools and the guerrilla fight (Camnitzer 2009: 25star (* I5 )).


Agamben, Giorgio (1995): Homo sacer: Il potere sovrano e la nuda vita. Giulio Einaudi editore.


Alberro, Alexander/Stimson, Blake (1999): Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.


Avelar, Idelber (1999): The Untimely Present: Postdictatorial Latin American Fiction and the Task of Mourning (Post-Contemporary Interventions). Duke University Press.


Calloni, Stella (2006): OPERACION CONDOR: Pacto criminal. Editorial Sciencias sociales.


Camnitzer, Luis (2009): Didáctica de la liberación. CENDEAC.


Colectivo Cultural Entreletras (2006): Memoria, Verdad y Justicia. A los 30 años x los treinta mil:.Editorial Baobab.


Hollander Nancy (2010): Uprooted Minds. Surviving the Politics of Terror in the Americas Caro. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.


Longoni, Ana/Bruzzone, Gustavo (2007): El Siluetazo. Los Sentidos Artes Visuales.


Longoni, Ana (2007): El Siluetazo (The Silhouette): On the Border between Art and Politics. Sarai Reader 07 Frontiers.


Margulies, Phillip (2006):The Writ of Habeas Corpus. The Right to Have Your Day in Court. The Rosen Publishing Group.


Taylor, Diana (2003): The Archive and the Repertoire. Performing cultural memory in the Americas. Duke University Press.

ESMA’s (NavyMechanicSchool) history from detention camp to human right headquarter and museum, online: http://www.memoriaabierta.org.ar/eng/camino_al_museo3.php.

According to Camnitzer this redefinition of the guerrilla practice passes through art performativity (Camnitzer 2009: 79–83).

Grandmothers association; online: http://www.abuelas.org.ar/english/history.htm ; Mothers associations, online: http://www.madres.org/navegar/nav.php and Mothers funding line, online: http://www.madresfundadoras.org.ar/pagina/whoweare/85.

“Tucumán Arde” is the name of a project by an artist collective in Argentina which started in 1968. The artists conceived art as an effective instrument for social change, and through the Tucuman Arde project they sought to bring the distressed social conditions of the Tucuman province to the attention of a large public. The project was conceived of as an intervention in mass communication, a circuit of counter information against the official one of the dictatorship (Alberro and Stimson 1999).

Actually, nowadays it would probably be more correct to talk about post-dictatorial fiction(s) rather than
politics of memory as Idelber Avelar (1999) suggests.

Grupo Etcetera, online: http://grupoetcetera.wordpress.com/about/

Instead of the ritualistic protest and mourning of the Madres, H.I.J.O.S organize carnivalesque escrache or acts of public shaming. The word escrache is etymologically related to scracè= expectorar, meaning roughly “to expose”. (…) Because H.I.J.O.S entered the public arena more than a decade after the fall of military, they can afford to be more confrontational in their use of technique and public space.(…) Still their tactics serve to identify individuals responsible for gross crime against humanity. The performatic interruption, no matter how unwelcome, does not threaten their life. Like the Madres and Abuelas, H.I.J.O.S claim institutional justice, not private vengeance. (Taylor 2003:p.180-183)

The H.I.J.O.S (sons and daughters of disappeared people) association, online:http://www.hijos-capital.org.ar/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=21

Arde!Arte group, online: http://www.ardearte.com.ar/

An author that extensively wrote about this subject is Stella Calloni (2006) which is strongly recommend in order to further deepen investigation on the Condor Plan. For more general information please consult: Explanation of the Condor Operation and the United States: A Network of Southern Cone Assassination and American Avoidance 2005, online: http://www.oocities.org/thadoc78/Operation_Condor.htm and Deep politics forum community, online: https://deeppoliticsforum.com/forums/showthread.php?963-Operation-Condor.

The picana (was) an electrified prod used on sensitive body parts such as genitals and temples (…)
The Picana symbolized their (the torturers) eroticized violence and power. Just as weapons in every culture have symbolized masculinity, the picana crystallized the phallocentricity of the torture ritual. (Caro  Hollander 2010: p.115)

The writ of habeas corpus is an order written by a judge, demanding that a prisoner be brought to the
court so that the judge can decide whether the person is being lawfully imprisoned. (Margulies 2006: p.7)

Giulia Cilla ( 2013): A genealogy of affective politics. Visual practices of dissidence in post-dictatorial South America. In: p/art/icipate – Kultur aktiv gestalten # 02 , https://www.p-art-icipate.net/a-genealogy-of-affective-politics/