Resistances, Restitution, and Utopian Montage
We begin with the broken walls of an old psychiatric hospital in whose crumbling cracks we believe we can read what said ruin reveals: pain, sadness, and abandonment. From out of the bad weather that was the beginning of the twentieth century for different indigenous peoples of Abyayala, we get the image of a young girl, whose naked body is superimposed on the now empty wall. The girl impassively observes a camera to which she gives the image of herself, of her exposed body, without giving it a single inch more of her being; without any gesture of subordination. The young woman is Damiana, or Kryygi, which is the posthumous name given to her by her Aché community in Paraguay when the recovery of her remains from the Museo Nacional de la Plata began in 2010. This is the story of Damiana-Kryygi (2015) shown in the documentary by Argentinean director Alejandro Fernández Mouján that follows the process of Damiana’s life from the time she was abducted from her village to the recovery of the parts of her body scattered between Argentina and Germany. The series of images of the naked indigenous girl out in the open and in front of the photographic eye never cease to appear and interpellate us to give testimony. It is as if the resigned acceptance of her gesture calls out to us like a deaf whisper tainting the walls of the hospital to this very day with the imprint of the dreams, pains, and renunciations of the hundreds of women who passed through the psychiatric hospital and the Charcot Pavilion, dedicated, as its name suggests, to the treatment of the multiple symptoms of what nineteenth-century medicine classified as feminine hysteria. However, it is not merely another aspect of the pain of the centuries that remains in the photo; coexisting in the girl’s gaze and drawing us; making us appear in trial and to give testimony; demanding words from us over and over again all the way from her gaze to her serene but imperturbably closed mouth. Instead, we need to speak and ask her, but she does not utter words; the word is defeated, because the appearance of pain demands a “space-between” and a space of silence to see and to witness (to make present) this “political appearance [...] of the peoples” (Didi-Huberman 2014a: 22).
The documentary reconstructs various moments in the life and death of this Aché girl2, whose existence can be understood as an allegory of the combined and systematic destruction of the indigenous peoples of Abya Yala by the Latin American states during the last part of the 19th century, through terror over their bodies and their integral life in the so-called Second Conquest (Gabbert 2019), which had political objectives but also, and fundamentally, economic ones of appropriation, nature, and indigenous resources to capitalize on them in the world market.
In 1896, a scientific expedition from the Museo de la Plata in Argentina, led by the Dutch anthropologist Herman F. C. ten Kate and the French Charles de la Hitte, went to Paraguay to collect the remains of some of the Aché people who had been murdered by settlers. Guided by the Aché’s murderers themselves, the anthropologists collected, as a result of their expedition, the skeleton of a young woman who had been hacked to death with a machete. The other find was a live Aché girl, less than four years old, who had been captured in the attack. The girl, according to La Hitte, was named Damiana by her captors; the very same murderers of her entire community. In 1898, at the age of six, she was given to the famous physician Alejandro Korn, who took her in as a servant in his house. At the age of about fourteen, the girl was admitted to the Melchor Romero Psychiatric Hospital by order of Korn himself because her liberal sexual behavior disturbed the family, who considered it to be a sign of some kind of pathological problem. It was in the hospital that, one day in May 1907, the girl was forced to pose naked outdoors for a photographic session with the German anthropologist Robert Lehmann-Nitsche3. Two months later, the girl died of tuberculosis, which, according to recent research, was very well developed at the time of the photos. The Museo Nacional de la Plata took charge of her body, which was split up for scientific purposes (as was customary for the museum). Her head and hair, which were particularly valuable for phrenological and pseudoscientific studies at the time, were sent by the Lehmann-Nitsche to his friend in Berlin, Hans Virchow, in order to study her racial characteristics.
Vanity (from the Latin vanĭtas, vanus, "hollow, empty"), brings together pride and futility and, in the arts and the genre that bears the name, expresses the concern about the transience and fragility of life that escapes us while naive and empty we wallow in arrogance. Death, the arts tell us, lurks in metonymic continuity with pride, because there is no pride that is not driven, again and again, to the self-representation of itself until the self is empty; i.e. the representation of a hollow representation: a skull. All that emptiness at the basis of the inflated self; skulls next to books. We fall; we will fall with this pride.
What happens then when life is so disaffiliated from the life of nature, and of others, that not even the suffering, the pain of the other, seems to us like a skull, an announcement of vanity, what happens when not even the bones of others are enough matter to remind us that death continues and extends us, what happens when the skull becomes matter without language, pure mimesis of what you want to hear because you have forgotten that you are going to die; because your life has been anointed with the power to make others speak for you? The photographs of Damiana stripped in all her nakedness shows the extent of the man of science’s insensitivity. Obviously capable of forgetting not only his memento mori and thus the memory of his own death in the girl’s gaze, but any possibility of understanding the violence of his camera, which forced the extreme exposure of this humiliated girl’s body. Lehmann-Nitsche was in charge of the collection of the Museo del Plata4, a collection made up of thousands of bones of indigenous people who were killed in the Desert Campaign. He documents, in spite of his interlocutor, that his vanity was greater; it devoured and continues to devour him. The same vanity that made him feel uncomfortable because of the haughtiness of this young girl who, distrustful and even though she knew his language (the girl had learned German), refused to utter a single word. The anthropologist had already taken a series of photographs of naked women belonging to the Kawésqar5 people in 1902, in which the nudity of the indigenous woman’s body, as Déborah Dorotinsky has pointed out with regard to Mexican ethnographic photography of the time, while contributing to the general imaginary of primitivism, often goes beyond the mere ascription of the indigenous woman’s body to that general imaginary, to find itself overdone, revealing the conflicting desires “that indigenous women aroused in photographers, exploiters and other white men, and the way in which they made of them exotic objects of contemplation and erotic fantasies” (116)6. Science overflows with myth, desire, and morbidity. The camera, in this sense a prosthesis of the scientist’s libido, shows him to be incapable of keeping his place: and he brings the girl out into the extremities of the weather. He exposes her, and exposes himself in his extreme vanity as a white man, exercising dominion and incapable of looking at himself from the outside in the extreme futility of the emptiness he leaves around him: a lonely, ruinous wall, which still remembers that the girl did not complain, that she closed her mouth in a radical, definitive way, subtracting all traces of ruin from it (it should not be forgotten that Lehmann-Nitsche carried out his daily work amidst the human remains of thousands of indigenous people, who were for him exactly that: remains; remnants of a completed time, which spoke to him of a finished history, of a dead people finished or in the process of being finished7).
Ruinare (Lat.): that which falls, from the Latin ruere, to fall. Apparescere (Lat.): to set one’s sights on; to appear towards (ad-). The peoples that some want erased (Delenda Arauco! a Chilean liberal imprecated in 18688), are completely exposed to the luminous vanity of those who believe themselves capable of shedding light on them. The voracious camera of the anthropologist who accompanies the capitalist avant-garde wants to model them in his image (barbarians of his civilisation). But exposed to extreme visibility they appear as a people. Outside any genocidal calculation, they remake themselves as a people in the montage of their gaze. Those who want to be ruined, made to fall, disappear, appear, and appear to us again.
"Conquest of the Desert" is the name given by the Argentine state to the military campaign waged against the indigenous people who inhabited the Puel Mapu, specifically the Tehuelche, Rangkülche9, and Puel Williche10, which was at its strongest between 1879 and 1885. Additionally, from 1881 to the end of that century, the Chilean state carried out a military intervention on the territory of the Ngülu Mapu, in the so-called “Pacification of Araucanía”. This Second Conquest of the American South took place on both sides of the Cordillera, throughout the Wallmapu or Mapuche Country, and ended in the late 1880s with the dispossession of the Mapuche, who were murdered, deprived of their ancestral lands, imprisoned, exhibited in museums, forcibly conscripted into the army, or forced into servile labor. Mapuche historiography problematizes this experience as the “kuxanzuamkülen” (“being traumatized, being in trauma”), in the experience of being torn apart (Antileo et al. 20) and the fall of the world. This is how Kumillanka Naqill sang of her misfortunes in the early years of the 20thcentury:
Así, pues, vivo.
Recuerdo los que vivían antes,
Yo me conocía los buenos caciques.
Así, pues, otra vez habito mi tierra.
Hombre pobre soy yo;
Dios me tendrá lástima.
Se me van mis ideas;
Entonces lloro. (en Augusta, 1910: 170)11
In apparent contradiction, however, the triumphant narratives rather than extolling the military conquest, gave new vitality to determinist explanations; perhaps because they allowed the nascent states, which were founded like the colonial one on genocidal violence, to be absolved of responsibility, while at the same time conjuring up resistance, the evident presence of the Mapuche who, in spite of everything, continued to appear, to search, and to walk their paths. While the fires of the Mapuche tolderías were extinguished and in the Argentine prison camps they were re-classified for the new era as “useless Indians, warehouse Indians or prisoners” (Nagy and Papazian, para. 36), it was repeated as a litany that the “Araucanian race” had reached a period of extinction.
During the last decades of the twentieth century, coinciding with the war and persecution or, better said, the subsequent moment of reduction, repression, and helplessness and disorientation of the Mapuche, various Chilean photographers took images12 of Mapuche people in the format, famous at the time, of the carte de visite. Producing diverse scenographic contexts, the Mapuche are inscribed in the Studium of the time, in often implausible scenes; modelled by backdrops imported from Europe or North America, which were printed with art nouveau figures, French gardens, palm trees, vases and columns, and other objects so dear to the modelling of new bourgeois families.
The individual Mapuche portrait generally emphasizes the “ethnic” marks such as typical attire and physical characteristics of the “subjects” when it yields to the maxim that determined criminal and ethnographic photography of the time. The photographed subjects, at the same time, develop gestures that, most of the time, do not hide their distance from the medium and mediation. The photographs taken in the studio thus result in strange compositions that dislocate the purpose of the visiting card and, at the same time, demonstrate the inadequacy of the bourgeois and anthropological photographic Studium and the search to express these peoples and their cultures. They are, therefore, particularly rich in showing this dislocation.
In the preceding image (Fig. 2) it is the face of an anonymous Mapuche man that imposes itself on us in the form of an autonomous portrait for a visiting letter/postcard. The closeness of the frame13allows us to recognize the marks on his skin, his furrows, and the condition of his eyes (probably leucoma). His body is slightly bent. From this image we are reminded of the motif of the natural decay of the native; the avoidance of catastrophe and genocide. Ruinare: to bring down, to compose the entire Mapuche culture as a sediment, the remains of a fallen world material for ethnographic science, and its subjects as collapsing men, ruin-men, phantasmatic presences of a destruction that is denied but that was being exercised on the body and the entire culture of that nation. Ruin, however, we know, has an ambiguous status. The ruin is also that which remains after collapse, which appears in the judgement of the centuries. How can this ruinous gaze, which we imagine to be transcended by opacity, call out to us with such a force of interpellation and what is it that summons us from its clouded vision? These are paradoxical images, produced to ruin and commodify at the same time (studio photographs and exoticizing letters of visits concerning the "Araucanians" of Chile). They exist to turn bodies into both remains and commodities at the same time. They transform and are beyond the control of the photographic eye, materialities of memory, and testimonies, and, instead, act as sensual proofs of the life they tried to capture. Revelations: Because we are obliged to fix our gaze on the gaze of the portrayed and imagine what he sees, how we appear before him, and to recognize, in an image that also reveals the aesthetic fact itself - in the imminence of a revelation that does not take place, as Borges would say14 - a latency, a continuity, a gaze that continues to appear as the unveiling of the whole self of the portrayed15. In his splitting our own gaze, producing the splitting that crosses us as we take in his gaze; disturbing the times and the certainties of the end and the fall proclaimed by the colonial vanities.
At the end of 1886, the great cacique Inakayal16, one of the last to resist the Argentine military occupation campaign, was imprisoned in the Museum of Natural Sciences in La Plata. The leader, who had dominated the vast southern regions between the Negro and Limay rivers, as well as the Nahuel Huapi lake and the Kaleufu river (today called Neuquén) from the Waizuf Mapu (Cordillera Border territory) to the Willi Mapu (Southern Territory), was imprisoned in the Museum together with Foyel and Sayhueque, some of the most important Mapuche chieftains of the time; along with their families and close friends. Surrounded by indigenous human remains that were part of the anthropological collections on display, Inakayal and his family could only so well imagine the fate that awaited them. In the photograph of Inakayal (Fig. 3), possibly taken in Tigre prison, the man who never wanted to surrender his name to the invaders (he did not negotiate his nationality and therefore did not agree to any royalties from the Argentine state) stares straight into the camera’s eye, in one of the most expressive images of the terrible consequences of the defeat suffered by the Mapuche people (who had resolutely contested their territory from the Argentine state throughout the entire century) at Puel Mapu. His gestures are tinged with something like a distant rebuke towards the one who forces the image on him, a miserable and futile act of domination, he seems to say. Inakayal’s gaze is, once again, immeasurable in its judgement of the "civilization" that wants to subject him.
Inakayal would have died at the end of September 1888, but more than a century had to pass before part of his remains (his skeletal remains) were returned to his Mapuche community in Tecka, Chubut in 1994; and twenty years later, in 2014, his remaining parts were returned: brain, scalp, the death mask, and the poncho he once gave Moreno as a token of friendship, as well as the remains of his relatives.
Inakayal's photo is taken by a vain victor for a vain society; a photo of dispossession and the arrogance of dominion over the destiny of the other: a photo of science and security. A predatory photo. The project #InakayalVuelve17 by Sebastián Hache averts this destiny.
Hache collects these documentary images of the ignominy towards the Mapuche people and their representatives and proposes the intervention of their materiality with the aim of restoring the image as part of the sensorial memory of the Mapuche social body, still wounded by the symbolic and material violence of the vanity of the victors. Thus, her performative and transmedial research is itself produced as the re-composition of a network of affects, remembrances, and the creation of new sensorial memories around the history of these peoples. #InakayalVuelve is thus a way of composing another time, undoing the ignominy and restoring the possibility of utopian imagining the re-encounter with these violated subjects. Gathering up the space and retracing it, the team, directed by Hache, moved along the paths that the captors forced the indigenous people they had captured to walk in defeat from the south of the country. The project thus travelled through different locations on its way back to the “Land of the apple orchards” (País de los manzanares), and in each instance, it brought about an unprecedented encounter with the images of the Mapuche.
First of all, the development of the photographs was carried out by taking advantage of the special luminosity of each environment, as the director explains. It was the light of Patagonia, the same light that would one day follow them in their full existence, that gave life (brought to light) to the new images. These photographs, each one unique, were then additionally painted. In the words of the director: “In the jargon of photography, the act of painting them is called ‘illuminating’ them. Our intention was to bring them out of the darkness in which they were taken” (Hache, Restitution par. 1).
After this process, people gathered from each of the places visited to work on embroidering the images, interweaving them directly with colored threads on the cotton paper, with all the care that this requires. For the Mapuche people, working with weaving, with connecting, and by extension embroidery, undoubtedly, has an allegorical projection that links these practices to the imagination of new paths, the creation of other ways, links, and channels; as well as the autonomy to create their history. In fact, the important current of recent Mapuche historiography speaks the same language when it highlights “the capacities of the Mapuche people to weave new plots and weave their steps” via “the diverse wixal (loom) that constructed ours and ours in the depths and expanses of the mapu in which we survive” (Antileo et al., 2015: 18).
For Hache and her team, embroidery has a restitutive meaning. Faced with the conception of the image as a product of imitation, of the analogue representation of the portrayed, the intervention of embroidery utopically reworks them as a way to connect with the integral existence of the indigenous subjects, which had been paradoxically denied by the very violence of the predatory colonial photographic practice. To recover, through the sensitive connection that the work of weaving, of the fretwork on the materiality, brings about, the depth of that imprisoned existence as a way of empowering its appearing (as the opposite of disappearing), of repositioning its figure, experienced by us as observers, thanks to the joint presentation provided by the project, of the reverse of the embroidery that exposes the stitching and the warp as a human work of assembly (Fig. 4. and 6.), which thus highlights the interval between them and us, the necessary work of memory, and thus also confronts us with the possibility of emptiness, of the disappearance of the figure that this work tries to conjure up: “The embroidery is an attempt to restore the soul that was taken from them at the moment of the shots”, says Hache (Why embroider? [¿Por qué bordar?] par. 1).
#InakayalVuelve is, at the same time, a ritualistic, ceremonial intervention that aims to heal the images themselves through the expression of empathy and affection as a power to produce a utopian community with the history of these violated subjects:
When I started painting and embroidering it [Inakayal’s image], the idea was to heal it [...] Why embroider it? Embroidering and weaving are acts of love, of care. It is a ceremony to give shelter, to heal. It is to establish a dialogue with the image in order to liberate what was enclosed in them, to reveal what was hidden by the shot. Embroidering a photo transforms the image, but also the person who embroiders (Hache, Embroidering genocide par. 5).
This is exactly what is achieved, in the most sensitive way possible, with the beautiful intervention of the photo of the chief Foyel18, who had been forced to pose naked in captivity:
The naked body of the cacique Foyel, a vain expression of the complete dispossession to which his people were subjected (Nahuelpán Moreno 2012), is here quite literally sheltered with the continuous fabric of a sweater that covers his entire torso, in a utopian montage of heterogeneous materials that aspires to an alchemical projection, in that it does not renounce the transmutation of the image-thing to the literal warmth on the cacique’s body: “The process is chemical, but also alchemical. It is about bringing back into the light what was made in the darkness of genocide” (Hache, Alchemy para. 14). It is about producing, sensitively, from the sensorial materiality of the wool on his body, the protection and the care of the other. And it is also about, in the exhibition of the montage work (Fig. 6, right), making perceptible (Didi-Huberman, 2014b) the extreme nudity to which colonial vanity exposes it, showing and making appear the void, the emptiness - and the extreme cold - that reverberates in the scientific/police image, without the intervention of the fabric; of the communal shelter.
The representation of a Mapuche woman whose name we do not know (Fig. 8) also shows us the restitutive power of the intervention of #InakayalVuelve. The modality of colonial anthropometric photography, which constitutes the basis on which the performance is inscribed (Fig. 7 left and right), is dislocated by this performance. It is dislocated by the colouring of the image of the woman and her attire, and the intervention of embroidery of a kind of crown made of delicate ñandutí (Guaraní) lace embroidered in light-colored thread, which, in a metonymic way, thus placed on the top of her body, re-signifies the entire understanding of the figure of this anonymous woman, now associated with a special spiritual and transcendent dignity (as occurs in various different cultures with the symbol of the crown).
“I am awake: trepelen. I long for your colour: duamnien tami adentungen. Your presence is confirmed in us: eymi tami mülepan pwefaluwkey inchiñ mew. Rest: ürkütunge may. [...] I chose to embroider Trepelen, I am awake. The translation is exquisite because the meaning - as it always the case with the Mapuche language - is much deeper than in Spanish. [I embroidered it on the blanket of a woman whose name I don't know. On her head, like a flower, I applied a patchwork of ñandutí. It was made by Gilda, a weaver I met on the outskirts of Itauguá, Paraguay. There is something in their looks that links them, that unites them” (Hache, La larga marcha par. 19-21) (Author’s translation).
Sebastián Hache probably wanted to remember in this embroidery and in this woman the young Aché Damiana, on whose naked images he also embroidered.
On 11 June 2010, more than a hundred years after her death in the Melchor Romero Psychiatric Hospital, the first part of Damiana’s remains were handed over by the Museo de Ciencias Naturales de la Plata to her community in the village of Ipetīmí in Paraguay, who gave her a new name: Kryygi; they were later given her head, tongue, and hair, which were kept for more than a hundred years in the possession of the Charité hospital in Berlin (Bernabé, 2020: 165).
Faced with the complete dispossession of the indigenous subjects in this Second Conquest of Abya Yala, the artists who work to collect and re-discuss the archive activate the heterogeneous forms of memorial restitution19, propitiating the imaginal appearance of these peoples, as a utopian resource that aspires to reopen historical time to empathy and the sensitive recognition of the existences denied by colonial predatory vanity.
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Hache, Sebastián. “¿Por qué bordar?”. Proyecto #InakayalVuelve. https://inakayal.revistaanfibia.com/
___. “Alquimia para la foto de un prisionero”. Proyecto #InakayalVuelve. https://inakayal.revistaanfibia.com/index.php/alquimia-para-la-imagen-un-prisionero/
___. “Restitución”. Proyecto #InakayalVuelve. http://inakayal.revistaanfibia.com/index.php/2018/10/03/restitucion/
___. “Bordar el genocidio: La larga marcha de un lonko para volver a su tierra”. http://revistaanfibia.com/cronica/la-larga-marcha-de-un-lonko-para-volver-a-su-tierra/
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Hache, Sebastián. “La larga marcha de un lonko para volver a su tierra”. Cosecha Roja. 24/09/2018 http://cosecharoja.org/la-larga-marcha-de-un-lonko-para-volver-su-tierra/