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GOYA'S DOG - 2021

"After his execution, the King of Runagur was buried in an unnamed tomb, and every monument or writing bearing his name was destroyed, so that no one could know of his past existence or remember him in the future."

Milda Rivarola, prologue to Letras de Sangre[one]


A grain of earth. A handful of land. The emptiness of a pit in the earth. Silence.  

What land is this but one that needs to talk?

Stopped at this minute, contained by the present, in the cube she does nothing but a long hug. One that wrapped bodies that dreamed, that loved, that cried, that begged, that resisted. To bodies that, silenced, were thrown into ditches covered by imposed oblivion and silence. It is an embrace tinged with humanity that contains memory.

It's an awkward cube. It is an uncomfortable present. 


Now we wait for the night to be able to cross it[2]

The bodies that this earth has embraced have been denied burial according to the dignity and condition of being human. It has been and is a double punishment for their relatives, for the entire community; the denial of a tomb, but also the absence of one's own body to watch over has prolonged mourning and anguish, has imposed long silences, has condemned to oblivion.

At the end of the 1950s, the government of General Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) confronted a little more than a hundred young people -all of them opponents of the regime- who, crossing the Paraná from the Argentine coasts, entered in the region of Itapúa, Caazapá and Alto Paraná with the firm conviction of overthrowing the dictator, in the same way that he himself had come to power: through arms.

The Stronista regime outlined a military campaign to confront them with characteristics framed in extreme violence: torture of detainees, mutilations in life and execution. The brutality in the handling of the bodies found silence in the waters of the Paraná and in dozens of common graves. The entrenchment of the dictatorship since the 1960s also imposed silence on the opposition parties themselves, whose young people had integrated the 14 de Mayo and FULNA movements. The Paraguay of Gral. Stroessner felt that same degree of violence again in the mid-1970s and early 1980s.  

For decades, in the silence of the ancient jungles of Paraguay, in the silence of a long hug.


From metaphorical digging to literal digging

Bernardo Puente works not only on the representation of memory as trauma, but also on his own discourse against the historical narrative. He's a forensic archaeologist. He has opened that embrace with brushes and with his hands. Sitting next to remains of a mass grave. He has witnessed goodbyes between the bones of the disappeared and the land that has contained them. He has taken a deep breath knowing that it was possible to give identity to the remains. Names. Surnames. Nationalities. But it has also returned to old streets where the earth does not have the power to identify. where you can't talk  

Perhaps the same final embrace that he could not give to his uncles - who were detained and disappeared during the Argentine military dictatorship - consciously and unconsciously leads Puente to rethink himself, to the forced and imposed silences on his family. Not to ask. Not to answer. Because Buenos Aires is Paraguay and Paraguay is a condor.

Bernardo is a clandestine archaeologist.

Stroessner's figure emerges/hides/emerges indistinctly. It is the effigy of the Only Leader in the key of farce and is also the representation of stronismo surviving the present, accommodated, reformulated. Violent and seedy.

Archaeologist of the disaster, the artist encloses all the symbolic charge of the cult of the image next to the earth from mass graves from which the remains of the disappeared were extracted, and pushes us to confront the discourse of memory, the first-person testimony, the mechanism of silence, to its high costs, to the post-memory of the inherited trauma. To 1960. To the limits of official history. To stand in front of a hug.

Because in the bucket, in the bucket lies nothing but a long hug. 

What land is this but a land that needs to talk?  



Ana Barreto Valinotti

Asunción, October 2021.


[one]Rivarola, Milda. 2012. Letras de Sangre, Unpublished Diary of the Counterinsurgency and the Guerrilla (Paraguay, 1960). Servilibro, Asunción.

[2]Final line from the diary of Rufino Marcial Arce, second commander of the Freedom Column of the May 14 Movement, who died in Puerto Ordóñez in 1960. In: Rivarola, Milda (work cited).

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