Revolutionizing Memory, Constructing the Future

March 16-September 16, 2011

Stencil Art from Buenos Aires, Argentina

Rick Kappra describes his photographic exhibition
in the Rosenberg Library:

In the summer of 2007 I went to Buenos Aires to study Spanish for two months.  I knew some of the history, but I didn’t know the details.  I was curious and wanted to learn more.

I found that people were very willing to talk about politics in Argentina, unlike in the United States, where political discussions are not considered appropriate for “polite” conversations, or where our political discourse is often more mythology than fact.  In Argentina, discussions of politics were everywhere – in my Spanish classes, on TV, and among friends.  People were not afraid to talk about the dirty war, the 30,000 or more Argentines who were “disappeared”, the economic collapse or the things that caused it.  After 25 years of being afraid to speak, Argentines believed in the power of their voices, their memories and their political action.

This belief in the importance of political action was reflected in the daily protests that closed streets and schools and shut down train lines.  Direct action seemed to be the greatest political weapon that modern Argentina had, or perhaps its last resort.

I first discovered stencil graffiti in the neighborhood of San Telmo.  I believe it was my second day in Buenos Aires.  “Soy puto y soy feliz” – ‘I’m a fag and I’m happy’ was one of the first that I saw.  “Besa a quien quieras” – ‘Kiss whomever you want’, was another.  Among this collection of powerful statements of queer militancy, were teddy bears and other whimsical figures.  It was my introduction to a world of expression I quickly learned to love.  As I went about documenting it, it became like a treasure hunt.  Each piece of graffiti revealed one more aspect of the tremendous fight Argentines were waging to free themselves from their past while not forgetting it.  Queer rights, women’s rights, class struggle and calls for prosecution of those behind recent human rights violations were some of the many issues that were expressed through the stencil graffiti.  The struggle to save their schools, a cause of many of the street protests, appeared alongside other rallying cries. The graffiti was simple, direct and for me as a learner of Spanish as a second language, easy to understand and digest.  In its simplicity lay its power.

Rick Kappra, Photographer
ESL Instructor, Civic Center Campus, City College

Find Information on:
Argentina and Street Art through the City College Library

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