Hernán Parada, No puedo ver—Oír—Hablar (I Cannot See—Hear—Speak), 1985, triptych, ink-jet prints on paper, overall 35 3⁄8 × 53 1⁄8".

Hernán Parada, No puedo ver—Oír—Hablar (I Cannot See—Hear—Speak), 1985, triptych, ink-jet prints on paper, overall 35 3⁄8 × 53 1⁄8".

Hernán Parada

In 1973, a military coup d’état rocked Chile, rendering imprisonment, torture, and disappearance daily occurrences. This repeated assault on the social fabric motivated hundreds of people to take to the streets in protest of the lack of information about their relatives. To this day, the military has yet to address the fate of the missing, but their disappearance has affected the country profoundly.

Curated by Alejandro de la Fuente, the exhibition “OBRABIERTA: El tiempo, la vida, la información” (OBRABIERTA: Time, Life, Information) focused on an ongoing body of work that Hernán Parada started in 1979 as part of both general resistance to the coup and the individual experience of the imprisonment, torture, and disappearance of his brother Alejandro. In 1979, for a series of “Urban Interventions with Signs,” the artist appeared in different public settings holding up a placard with a portrait of his brother. Parada followed this in 1984 with “Performance Actions with Masks,” which entailed the artist wearing a mask of his brother’s face to evoke the latter’s presence and memorialize his absence. “OBRABIERTA” the show’s title is a pun playing off the idea of “open work” or unsettled business) featured photographic documentation of five of the performances with the sign and five with the mask. Parada sited his actions in symbolically charged places around Santiago, ranging from the Supreme Court building and the Plaza Italia—the center of protests past and present—to the more personal setting of the veterinary school of the University of Chile, the institution where Alejandro Parada was studying at the time of his forced disappearance. In the selected photos, the artist-as-memorial seamlessly infiltrates the city streets, his presence causing little disruption. Parada would later don this same disguise for No puedo ver—Oír—Hablar (I Cannot See—Hear—Speak), 1985, a triptych composed of three photographs in which the artist covers the image of his brother’s eyes, ears, and mouth in reference to the motif of the three wise monkeys. A collaboration with Gloria Camiruaga, this piece complemented another performance, Desde la incertidumbre (From Uncertainty), 1985. Footage of the latter shows a masked Parada in the foreground speaking from his brother’s perspective. Narrated in the first person, the account gives a speculative voice to Alejandro’s experience, surveying everything from the moments prior to his arrest to the uneasy hours and days following. Toward the end, we hear “Alejandro” lament that he has not been allowed to live or die: This observation alludes to the impossibility of mourning him amid the uncertainty surrounding his fate. The link between the triptych and the video is heightened by the expressiveness of Alejandro’s incarnation. The artist is no longer merely staging his brother’s presence through a two-dimensional countenance; he is giving life to him through his own body.

As the curator, de la Fuente mapped out the various stages of this ongoing body of work and contextualized it with a time line relating Parada’s personal life to the political history of Chile and its artistic scene. The resulting exhibition was not a retrospective per se, but rather a political action that used art to remind us that as long as the military maintains its silence, preventing the missing from ever receiving proper burial or mourning, the wounds will remain open.

Translated from Spanish by Michele Faguet.