Reparar Means to Repair
Reparar Means To Repair uses video and gesture to explore intergenerational rifts created by mass violence and the attempts to mend damage done - both governmental reparations and personal acts of repair and remembering. The exhibition looks at the relationship between official narratives of reparation and the burden of personal healing through the frame of language and memory.
Essay by Laura Couttie, 2018.
The definition of reparations is the making amends for a wrong that has been done. Usually it refers to compensation for war damage paid by a defeated state, in the form of money or other incentives. Taken from the Latin root ‘reparare’, the term is suggestive of repairing or restoring something that has been damaged. In Reparar Means To Repair, Camila Galaz explores the complex nature of damage and repair – the public and personal, external and internal.
A second-generation Chilean Australian, Camila is interested in the role that history, language and memory play in the shaping and performing of identity. Chile was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990, under the leadership of General Augusto Pinochet. Camila’s father, a member of left-wing groups opposing the government, was granted political asylum in Australia, where he met her mother. Camila was born in 1989, around the time Pinochet’s dictatorship ended. Growing up in Australia and not speaking Spanish, she has been, in many ways, disconnected from the environment that shaped her father and that part of her identity. In recent years Camila has started to reconnect with her Chilean heritage and slowly learn the language and stories of her family and cultural history.
In 2011 the Chilean government officially recognised 40,018 survivors of torture and political imprisonment, as well as 3,065 people killed or forcible disappeared at the hands of the military government. [i] As reparations, the Chilean government pays survivors of rights violations a lifetime pension as well as health, education and housing benefits. Through an open call process, the government asked people to self-nominate in order to receive reparations, meaning you had to recognise and admit to having been affected or damaged. Camila’s father receives reparations. But it was only recently that she discovered that, as his daughter, she is also eligible to receive some reparation benefits. Having not personally experienced the pain and suffering of the dictatorship, this realisation prompted her to question what it is that she needs reparations for. How can you fix what is broken if you don’t even know what needs fixing?
While she didn't experience first-hand the trauma that occurred in Chile, Camila acknowledges that it has contributed to the formation of her identity. Trauma is understood as a type of psychological damage that occurs as the result of a distressing event, and can significantly impact an individual’s emotional state and ability to process the experience. In some cases, trauma is passed down from the first generation who experienced or witnessed the traumatic events to future generations. This is referred to as intergenerational or inherited trauma. Marianne Hirsch coined the term post-memory in relation to the Holocaust to describe ‘the relationship that the generation after those who witnessed cultural or collective trauma bears to the experiences of those who came before’.[ii] While much of the studies and writing on these concepts relate to the Holocaust and associated traumas of World War 2, they are relevant to many contexts.
Debates around inherited trauma and reparations exist in the United States of America, with the reparation movement arguing that African-Americans should be compensated due to the effects of slavery, racism and segregation continuing to plague the black community. Similarly, in Australia, intergenerational trauma is a big issue for Indigenous peoples, who experienced suffering as a result of colonisation and the associated violence, loss of land and culture, and forcible removal of children.
As well as the structural consequences of inherited trauma, there are epigenetics studies that suggest stress caused by trauma can actually alter DNA and therefore can be passed on genetically. [iii] We understand that while events may have occurred in the past, their effects continue to radiate into the present and future. We exist within a moment but within us exist many generations of experience. Whether genetic or psychological, it is clear that although one might be removed, both in time and place, from traumatic events, you can still bear the marks or scars. Hirsch asserts that ‘Second generation fiction, art, memoir, and testimony are shaped by the attempt to represent the long-term effects of living in close proximity to the pain, depression, and dissociation of persons who have witnessed and survived massive historical trauma. They are shaped by the child’s confusion and responsibility, by the desire to repair, and by the consciousness that the child’s own existence may well be a form of compensation for unspeakable loss.’[iv]
In Reparar Means To Repair, Camila has embarked on a journey of personal healing through the frame of the archive and memory. At the far end of a dark room a video plays on loop. The video shows edited scenes of Chilean countryside. The view is from the window of a bus travelling between Santiago and Valparaíso, which Camila filmed last year on her first visit to Chile. From the bus window you can see people on the side of the road, dressed in white and waving white sticks with streamers on them. The image of these roadside vendors symbolically contrasts the concept of visibility and attracting attention to yourself, with surrender, the motif of waving the white flag. Camila’s father was born in Santiago and spent a long time in Valparaíso, so the bus trip was an important journey, a symbolic retracing of her father’s footsteps. After all, story is at its most powerful in the place it belongs.
On another wall is an analogue photograph presented in a digital photo frame (again, the pairing of two different worlds). The photo is of Camila’s hand, sporting a barely-visible burn made by a jaffle iron. Through the gesture of hands Camila makes a connection and comparison to her father’s hands, which are marked with scars from machetes – the irony being that her wound is so banal and superficial. Camila is interested in the performance of identity through repetition and gesture. The symbolic repetition of this image points to both visible and invisible scars – trauma is not always seen on the surface. The concept of reparations is a similarly symbolic gesture. While compensation cannot fix the damage caused, to have one’s suffering acknowledged can lead to healing, even if the compensation is more symbolic than substantial. These works can be read as Camila documenting her own journey, as a phantom, or stand in, for those that she did not experience, as a way of processing the transmission of trauma and her personal history.
[i] BBC, ‘Chile recognises 9,800 more victims of Pinochet's rule’, 18 August 2011, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-14584095, accessed 18 June 2018.
[ii] Marianne Hirsch, ‘The Generation of Postmemory’, Poetics Today, 29:1 (Spring 2008), p.112.
[iii] ABC, ‘Epigenetics: how your life could change the cells of your grandkids’, 21 April 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-04-21/what-does-epigenetics-mean-for-you-and-your-kids/8439548, accessed 18 June 2018.
[iv] Marianne Hirsch, ‘The Generation of Postmemory’, Poetics Today, 29:1 (Spring 2008), p.112.
documentation images by Christo Crocker