BUENOS AIRES — When Voluspa Jarpa got her hands on piles of court papers and declassified CIA documents linked to Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, she saw an opportunity to make art.
The Chilean artist decided she'd use the material to create a vast, albeit austere, visual display that doubles as a discrete historical indictment of a time when the United States meddled shamelessly in Latin American domestic affairs.
Visually, the exhibition Round Here In Our Little Region, which opened at the Latin American Art Museum in Buenos Aires, is consciously minimalist. It's in homage to the artistic movement in vogue at the time of the events concerned. Its installations, like the "curtain" of papers hanging over a doorway, consist of simple components like papers or plain pictures pertaining to dozens of regional politicians whose deaths under the various military regimes in many cases remain unresolved.
Art can, of course, give emotional power to otherwise humdrum objects like judicial reports. One paper shows the words "Get me out of here immediately, please," scrawled by the former Chilean President Eduardo Frei Montalva to his daughter, before he died in hospital in 1982. The Christian Democrat had by then become a critic of the military regime he initially supported, and investigations suggest he might have been murdered or at least "negligently" killed during treatment.
Jarpa uses documents from several countries because she wants viewers to use many documents to piece together the "bigger picture" or recurring regional patterns, like the leitmotivs that recur in minimalist art and music. And the simple visuals contrast with the complexity, or perhaps ambiguity, of their contents, which may not necessarily tell a clear story.
What does a written instruction, an inconclusive report or a cryptic embassy note really tell its reader about the region's history? Especially if it is in English?
The show closes with the installation "Translation Lessons", wherein five screens show Jarpa learning English so she could read CIA papers, and suggesting how the fates of nations were being decided elsewhere. In this context, English becomes an "alien" code Latin Americans must access to understand their own history.