Brian Carlson's Facebook page is lighting up as media across the globe report on the death of Former Argentine Dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, imprisoned for the murder of 31 Argentinians during his reign of terror from 1976 until 1983, when democracy returned to Argentina. Human rights organizations have estimated the number of "disappeared" Argentinians at 30,000, a genocide that occurred with the knowledge and complicity of then U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Carlson, a Port Washington, Wisconsin-based painter and college professor, has been "re-appearing" the victims one portrait at a time, relying upon online photo archives as-well-as photos sent to him by loved ones and family members of the missing.
According to Carlson, "The accompanying note might say 'these were my parents' or 'this is my missing brother, son or daughter.' So I paint them."
To date, Carlson has completed approximately 500 portraits. "I'm taking the paintings with me to Argentina," he says. "I have been invited by countless individuals and several museums to display the portraits, so I am working as quickly as possible to get as many done as I can before leaving. I expect to have limited time to paint on this trip. There is already a full agenda of gallery shows, on-air interviews, and speaking engagements, including a major address at the Museo de Memoria de Rosario, June 2nd. I'm trying to pick-up as much Spanish as possible, learning a bit from email contacts in Argentina. Thank God for online translator websites. Without them this trip wouldn't have happened so quickly."
Carlson's project, called the "Aparecidos" (the "Reappeared") is aimed squarely at state-sponsored oppression. He says: "The disappearance of family members, never to be seen nor heard from again, strikes a population with paralyzing terror. Imagine the horror of not knowing where a son or daughter is. The notion of reappearing these tortured, murdered, and often raped men and women has seemed to resonate with the people of Argentina as a rallying point. It is a way of saying, 'We will not be erased. Justice will be served.'"
Social network friends in Argentina are currently deluging Carlson with news of Videla's death and how it has invigorated further cries for justice. Says Carlson, "Early on in this project friends in Argentina asked, 'Why is someone in North America so interested in what happened to us? We thought no one in your country cared.' I learned about the complicity of the U.S. Government and U.S. corporations from Argentine sources, information that has been confirmed by the release of U.S. State Department documents. It was appalling, what we did. At one point Kissinger actually encouraged the ruling Junta to hurry up and get it done, because the political climate in the U.S. might change."
Simultaneously, throughout Central and South America, graduates of the U.S.-funded School of the Americas/WHINSEC were eliminating left-leaning students, union members, priests and nuns, and political opponents via a coordinated campaign of assassinations, torture, and genocide designed to cow the public into submitting to the rule of the dictator du jour and supporting regime. To call attention to this genocide, Carlson has also been painting a series of large-scale canvases entitled Los Monstrous, faces of dictators and collaborators who are responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of their own countrymen, women, and children. The canvases vividly express the notion that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Stories of blatant sadism told by the rare escapees of the death camps fueled the fears of loved ones left behind and helped to subdue notions of reforms that might bring about just and progressive governance. The Los Monstrous canvases will be mounted on the floor, to be walked upon by the mothers and grandmothers of lost children.
Upon viewing Carlson's "Aparecidos" images, one is moved to note that the faces do not look like those of guerilla fighters or revolutionaries. The overwhelming power of the exhibit is rooted in the fact that the faces of the "disappeared" look like us.
When asked why are you doing this, Carlson replies, "Evil does not win. Videla, Massera and the rest, Kissinger, the leaders of empires, are not victors over the capacity of individuals to prefer, to insist on peace over violence, to make non-violence, cooperation, unity their way, thereby establishing real power. The violent, in the end, kill themselves.
"You and I can decide to be conscious, decide to live out all it means to be ourselves, to devote our remaining time, however long that may be, to ethically respectable endeavors, and to maximizing our potential for compassion, kindness and assistance to others. We can see our unity, proclaim it, and transcend the old divisions, functioning as world citizens, as family, as sisters and brothers. To the extent we do this, we are reappeared!"