The Family Portrait
is a collaboration between
Agricola de Cologne, Raquel Partnoy as a co-curator, mother and grandmother, her daughter Alicia Partnoy and Alicia’s daughter Ruth Sanabria.
The most comprehensive contribution came from Raquel who coordinated all material (texts and images) to be used for the Internet based project Agricola de Cologne was transforming into an artistic shape.
Raquel, herself visual artist (painter) is relating her textual statements to the artistic statements of her paintings.
My grandparents were Russian-Jewish immigrants who settled in Argentina in 1913, shortly before World War I. They decided to leave their country because of Czarist persecution and discrimination against the Jewish people. My father arrived with part of his family; the ones who remained in Russia died during the war. My mother went with 24 family members, including her uncle and his family. They were not able to pack many of their belongings, but they did bring with them a samovar. When my parents grew older they gave it to me because, according to the Jewish tradition, it has to be left to the youngest child. The samovar came to my home with all the family memories, and I decided to preserve them in my paintings.
If I look back I can see that all of the series I have painted reflect both my heritage and my own experiences. My mother also gave me the family album. All those photographs told me stories, stories about generations that come and generations that go. They spoke of life, exile, and death. I used those stories to paint my series “From Life,” “Life’s Windows,” and “The Brides.”
When working on them, not only was I interested in preserving my family memories, but also in portraying both the positive and negative aspects of life. During the years to come I would have to go through more negative than positive events. My series “Life’s Experiences” is related to the dictatorship in Argentina when more than 30,000 people “disappeared.” Many youth who believed in justice were arrested, tortured, and eventually killed by the authorities. In that series I tell of my own pain for the disappearance and subsequent imprisonment of Alicia, my only daughter. At the beginning of our odyssey we did not know that we were not alone. Many parents, like us, were going through the nightmare of trying to find out where our children had been taken. We had gone to police stations and army posts; we had talked to priests and military chaplains; we had asked friends if they knew of contacts at the clandestine centers who would be able to say if our children were alive. However, the army knew very well how to create a climate of terror in the family of the abducted victim. When Salomon, my husband, went to our city army headquarters to ask about our daughter, they denied she was there and showed him a paper, allegedly signed by her, stating that she was released. Where was she then? The scenario of the “disappeared” was in place, and the creator of this horrible concept, the manager of such horrendous drama was a terrorist state.
After that I produced the series “Clothes.” By painting clothes without people I portrayed the life of Daniel, my only son, who suffered depression during those years, until he could not longer bear it and, at the age of 25, committed suicide.
Six years ago Salomon, my husband, and I moved to Washington, DC. We came to join Alicia and her family. We brought with us a few things and one of them was the samovar. For many years the samovar has been the silent witness to our lives. It traveled from Russia to Argentina and then to the United States. How many familiar faces were reflected on its shiny surface? How many stories were engraved in its bronze body? Last year I went back to the family photos, which I had also brought with me, to find those answers. I began to paint “The Secrets of the Samovar.”
As a daughter of immigrants I feel deeply connected to my roots but I also feel close to those who suffer repression and injustice. Luckily, the samovar is still home to remind me about my grandparents’ experience and my own. When this Silent Witness resides with my descendants, it will help them never to forget.
The two projects “family Porttrait” and “Women:Memory of Repression in Argentina” (W:MoRiA” do not only belong concptually to and depend on each other this way, the demonstarte in different way the perosnal inviduela affection, and the collective affection in the same way, this is good for the collective affection of Jews, and Argentinians.
The Partnoy Family and its members are both.
Raquel explains in the video lecture she was preparing for “W:MoRiA”:
During the seven years of dictatorship in Argentina thirty thousands people were killed by the military junta in the name of national security. Most of them were young adults and even
teenagers and children. State terrorism created a new term to mask such a crime: desaparecidos, the disappeared.
The soldiers made people disappear by fiercely taken them from home, destroying and stealing their belongings. They took the prisoners to one of three hundred forty six detentions camps where they were physically and psychologically tortured by trained guards. Those guards employed different methods to exterminate their captives such as suffocation, immersion, or electric shocks; throwing captives from airplanes into the river or sea with stones tied to their feet. The victims were shooting individually or in mass executions and their bodies were incinerated or buried in mass graves. After this cruel regime collapsed in 1983, mass graves with victims remains were found.
When local and foreign human rights organizations criticized those techniques, members of the military junta replied that repression was necessary in a dirty war. In fact, it was not a dirty war. It was not even a war. It was a genocide against anyone suspected of being a subversive and everyone who reacted against the atrocity that the military were perpetrating.
As a mother of a “disappeared” child I experienced the terror of seeing how my family was gradually destroyed. From the day my daughter Alicia and her husband Carlos were kidnapped by the military forces, anguish, hatred, and depression overwhelmed us while we wondered if they were still alive, felt impotent because the military wouldn’t give us any kind of information. There was nocommunication among people, only silence and fear.
At first we thought we were alone. Later we learned that thousands and thousands of families were going through the same situation.
The voices of the women I have included in Women: Memories of the Repression in Argentina express their feelings through poems, tales, letters or testimonies as ways to keep alive the memory of such a cruel tragedy. The military always wanted us to forget but I believe that, through art, we can preserve what happened to Argentinas population during those times.
Matilde Mellibovsky, is a very courageous woman. She is the mother of a disappeared daughter. Matilde got the strength to be one of the founders of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a Buenos Aires organization which have been circling around the plaza every Thursday since 1977, soon after the coup, asking for the whereabouts of their children.
Etelvina Astrada describes very well in her poem the brutality of the dictatorial regime through their procedures.
Irene Martinez, is one of the few Argentinean who survived torture. She was a medical student when the military kidnapped her. She was tortured, spent time in jail and under house arrest before obtaining political asylum in the United Stated. In this country she practices medicine and specializes in the rehabilitation of tortured victims.
Graciela Cabales captures in her story the anguish of the mothers of disappeared children who never got the chance to see their dead bodies, and remain the rest of their lives searching for them, finding similar features in the faces of other young people they see everyday.
Carmen Batsche, of Guatemalan descent, came with her family to live in Argentina. In her testimonial letter to my daughter Alicia, she tells of her impotence after her sister was disappeared in Argentina. Her mother, also a political activist, went back to Guatemala and was killed at the hands of the military of her country.
Heriberto Lorenzati, sent us the images related to the Argentinean’s genocide to accompany the writings of these women.
I hope that the voices of these women reach you and through their words we mantein the flame of memory alive so that this tragedy is not repeated anymore, in Argentina and in any country around the world.