Murano Glass Museum
from March 12nd to September, 11st, 2016
A path between personal story and historical memory of a country
I was born in Buenos Aires in 1957.
I was part of a generation that fought to change a society that seemed terribly unjust. I was 19 years old in 1976 when the military gained power with a coup d’état, and in August of that year my daughter Natalia was born. She is now the same age as the youth born during the dictatorship, from whom the military stole biological identities. With inconceivable cruelty, pregnant female prisoners were assassinated after giving birth and newborns were illegally put up for adoption and treated as trophies of war.
The title of the exhibit – Identidad desaparecida – alludes to the emptiness that the children, who are now adults, left in their biological families and in society. It is an absence that weighs as much as a boulder in the history of Argentina. The military and their civil accomplices – doctors, priests and corrupt officials – wanted to make a generation and their descendants disappear from the face of the earth. Using institutionalized methods of terror, they tried to silence the mothers assembled every Thursday in front of the government headquarters in Plaza de Mayo, asking for the liberation of their absent children or the return of their bodies. Hard fighting, the Mothers, who in time became Grandmothers, moved the focus of their protest and began the search for the children of the sons desaparecidos.
The central installation of the exhibit – one hundred nineteen pieces of infant clothing made in colored glass – is a reminder of the resolved cases of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, meaning the one hundred nineteen children who were able to know the names of their real parents, the circumstances of their births, and meet their biological families. Even if the children of the desaparecidos are now adults, in my work I always speak about children, because the trauma originated in childhood, when the military took upon itself the right to determine the fate of parents, negating every form of family identity.
As an artist I have always been interested in interpersonal relationships and in the relationship between family and society. In this case those involved in the illegal adoptions had to keep the family secrets sealed, while counting on the complicity of those who chose not to look or search beyond.
“Revealing”, making visible what is normally hidden or cannot be seen, is an integral part of my work, and I use glass to represent this metaphor; a material we use daily to preserve foods and beverages, their integrity protected in containers and bottles. In my artworks I use glass to preserve the memory of people and objects for future generations. I am not interested in the potential beauty of the material, but in its function to preserve and protect. To me glass embodies the idea of resilience. When ancient glass artifacts are discovered, often broken, they require time and dedication to be put together again. Objects speak to us of the person who created them and transport us back in time.
The story of the desaparecidos’ children will be pieced together in its entirety once the work of the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo concludes and all those still missing will have answered. After extensive research, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have identified at least five hundred cases of children stolen from their parents or born in captivity, who were subsequently put up for adoption illegally. Over the years they created a campaign, inviting children born between 1976 and 1983 who had doubts about their identities to take a DNA test. Thanks to the Grandmothers, today one hundred nineteen young people have reclaimed a basic human right, the right to an identity.
Working on this exhibit I have had occasion to reflect on my personal history. I left Argentina at the age of 23 with my partner and our children Emiliano and Natalia, and have lived since than, for the most part, in Italy. 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 “salve for my 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.
I would like to dedicate this show to the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, creators of this authentic miracle. Different from the model proposed by Western society, of a happiness that is allergic to old age and pain, where the elderly are more or less invisible, in Argentina the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo have had and continue to have a very important role within society. This exhibit is also a tribute to these generous, tireless women, who have walked straight through hell, but are still here, with their sweet smiles, fighting for memory, truth and justice, contributing significantly to the pacification process between Argentinean society and its history.
Silvia Levenson, born in Buenos Aires in 1957. Lives and works in Italy since 1980.
She exhibited in international museums such as Triennale and Pac in Milan, Museo Archeologico in Aosta, Quadriennale in Rome, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fè, USA, Museo d’Arte e Design (MUDAC), Laussane, Ludwig Museum in Budapest, Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco and Bornholms Kunst Museum, Denmark.
Her works and installations are included in public collections such as: Museum of Fine Art, Houston, Corning Museum of Glass, NY, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe (USA), Tikanoja Art Museum,Vaasa, Finlandia and private collections: Elton John Collection,USA, Bullseye Co., Portland, Fondazione Remotti, Camogli and Fondazione della Banca San Gottardo in Italy.
In 2009 she was visiting artist by ANU (Australia National University), Canberra, in 2005 artist in residence at the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, USA, where in 2004 she received the Rakow Comission Prize, in 1998 and 1995 artist in residence by Bullseye Glass Co., Portland (USA) and in 1996 artist in residence by the Museè Atelier de Verre de Sars Poteries.
She was guest lecturer by Accademia di Belle Arti in Venezia and in Verona, National Glass Center, Camberra, Australia, Northlands Creative Glass, UK, Accademia di Scultura in Barcellona, Pilchuck Glass School, USA, Space Verre, Montreal, Canada, School of Art & Design of Wolverhampton, UK and Design University in Helsinki.
Exhibition curated by Elena Povellato
Catalogue PuntoMarte Editore
In collaboration with Galleria Traghetto Venezia