For those of you who don’t know, I am an archivist. I work for a non-governmental research institute that uses the Freedom of Information Act to get U.S. government documents declassified. I do human rights and genocide research with a history of focusing on Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador, and currently working on Rwanda and Bosnia.
Today, my personal life as an artist overlaps* – yet again – with my career and volunteer work. I want to tell you about it…
Declassified government documents provide important information about state policies and actions, as well as any evidence of human rights violations. In cases of human rights violations, family members can use government documents as evidence in learning the truth about the fate of loved ones who were disappeared, murdered, tortured, raped, etc. Documents can also be used as evidence in human rights court cases. [Read more about all of this here, because really I could go on for hours.]
Once we get documents declassified, we make them available on the website, and through online published collections. They are used by students, professors, journalists, prosecutors, researchers, and government officials. I have read thousands of documents about genocide in Rwanda and Guatemala, U.S. foreign policy during the cold war, U.S. apathy in Rwanda, Guatemalan government documents detailing forced disappearance of activists, massacres and torture in El Salvador, repression in Mexico, and scorched earth policies of military dictators.
Part of the struggle to overcome a past of unspeakable violence and suffering is to retain historical memory – that is a collective memory of events in the past. Oftentimes those who obtain power through conflict, violence, and war end up attempting to dictate the “collective memory,” through propaganda, education, or other means, and including genocide denial. Survivors of mass, state-sponsored violence attempt to “reclaim” the dialogue and historical memory of their suffering and struggle.
In the case of the art featured in this post, I am attempting to reclaim the history of the mass state-sponsored violence and acts of genocide in Guatemala by reclaiming declassified documents. I am reclaiming these documents in order to raise awareness about the crimes against humanity that were committed, as well as U.S. complicity in these crimes.
This project is still a work in progress – these are only the beginnings of pieces…
What do you think?
*And by the way, to be clear – this post is personal and does not reflect views/policies of my current employer. This is just me, EmaBee, here. As someone who is passionate about their work, I love what I do and I do what I love, so personal and professional interests often overlap. To read more about this, see my EmaBee’s Policies page.