Indigenous representation in public art – the church

Alberto de Agostin - Puerto Natales

Alberto de Agostin – Puerto Natales

Indigenous representation in public art – the church

Whoever decided that the 500th anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of America should be commemorated on 12th October (previously known as ‘Columbus Day’) 1992 they must have been surprised by the reaction that followed the announcement. How could a piece of land, however huge, have been discovered by Europeans if there were already millions of people there who had developed a whole series of complex and successful societies which compared more than favourably to ‘Old World’ empires. The history of these civilisations in the Americas went back as far as those of which the Europeans were aware.

This wasn’t the first time this event as a celebration had been challenged but, especially in western Europe, the call for a celebration opened up the discussion that the arrival of Columbus and his small fleet of three trips in the Caribbean island of what he named San Salvador was, in reality, the beginning of one of the greatest genocides in world history.

Whether by accident (the indigenous population hadn’t encountered diseases common in Europe, such as influenza and smallpox, and therefore had no resistance and these diseases killed an untold number of people – however when the colonisers knew of this they used the first examples of ‘biological warfare’ well into the 19th century against the Plains Tribes of North America) and then through slavery and exploitation the indigenous population were virtually extinct – if we were to use the modern definition of extinction that is applied to flora and fauna throughout the world.

In Latin America countries there had been various names for the ‘celebration’ of the 12th October – too many, too diverse and too complicated for me to go into here (even if I understood all the local arguments) – but none of them really were concerned about the people who once populated the lands that were now in the hands of the descendants of the first European colonisers.

As was said about the missionaries and the colonisers in Africa (I thought there was a version of it for Latin America but I haven’t been able to find it yet) ‘when they came we had the land and they had the Bible, now we have the Bible and they have the land’ – attributed to Chinua Achebe in his novel ‘Things fall apart’ – so was the case in Latin America.

But after 1992 the governments in that continent thought they had to make some sort of concession to the past crimes. Not that they were going to give the land that had been stolen back to the ‘owners’, not that they were going to treat the descendants of the indigenous peoples in any way other than the one they had been following for the previous 500 years. No nothing like that.

They would issue a mea culpa, they would erect statues and monuments and they would shed crocodile tears but the situation would not change for the indigenous peoples. They would still be the ‘untouchables’ of the American continent.

(As an example of this I can only refer to my previous posts, and experience in Argentina, on the demonstration on the occasion of the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires earlier this year as well as the demonstration I encountered a few days earlier.)

One of the consequences of this is that there have been a perfusion of monuments erected to the ‘indio’. But although these are supposed to turn the invasion of the country into an ‘encounter between two worlds’ (which seemed to be the compromised reached in Europe in the 1990s) I think the images that have been, and still are being produced in Argentina only serve to perpetuate the old way of thinking.

‘New wine in old bottles’ might be a way to describe this approach. A more aggressive way would be to say that the racism is so ingrained that even when the intention is supposed to be good the result is not.

I intend in this post to describe some of the images I have seen in my relatively short visit to the Argentina – with a short diversion to Chile due to geography and the drawing of borders – giving my interpretation of those images. Instead of waiting until the end of my trip I will post what I have already seen and add any more that I encounter in the future, together with changing my approach if something catches my attention which indicates a different point of view.

The Catholic Church

I might as well start with the biggest bunch of hypocrites, thieves and perverts who have been involved in so much that has caused suffering to the indigenous population to millions in Latin America – yet so many of the victims will still consider themselves part of the faithful. (When looking at the fate of the indigenous population in Latin America it’s perhaps important to remember that they are also part of their own problem.

(As an indication of this I’ve never seen images of Christ on the cross, made by local indigenous artists in any Latin American country I have visited, which display so much pain and suffering. The images in Spain and Italy are mild by comparison.)

The incumbents in the Vatican might have taken a slightly different view in public but substantially the situation has remained the same – just take a look at the politics of contraception and abortion.

I was in Peru a few years after Karol Wajtyla had visited the city of Cusco in the late 1985. In preparation of the visit a large white cross was erected in the area around Sacsayhuaman (the pre-Colombian ‘fort’ above the city) and which could be clearly seen from the city. Local people considered the erection of this cross (which I assume is still there more than 28 years later) as a dagger into the heart of the indigenous people. The cross is planted in Inca territory and looks down on the Inca capital. Not much of an apology there.

But Wajtyla was the most recent fascist wearer of the Triple Crown so nothing other could be expected from him. But such an imperialist attitude has, is and will pervade the Catholic Church as long as it exists. How can it be otherwise? If there is only one God how can the church (Catholic or otherwise – the Protestants weren’t slow in coming forward to destroy indigenous religions) accept societies who have a myriad of religious entities? Such ideologies cannot live side by side. In the 16th century in Peru this eradication of the heathen was known as the ‘extirpation of ideology’. I don’t see any reason to believe that this approach has changed in any way.

So to how the indigenous people are represented in Argentinian and Chilean churches.

Cathedral – Rio Gallegos, Argentina

First, a bit of background. Giovanni Bosco was a 19th century Italian priest. He established the Salesian Society and it was these missionaries who were sent to Argentina and Chile in 1975. It’s for that reason his image is in virtually all Catholic churches and cathedrals in Patagonia, if not in other parts of Argentina.

Rio Gallegos Museum

Rio Gallegos Museum

In this small cathedral (must be one of the smallest in the world) is a statue of Bosco and two young boys. The one of European extraction is standing, is dressed like a little bourgeois, together with a bow tie, and is wearing shiny, black shoes. He has a book under his arm together with a bunch of flowers and is looking up admiringly at the face of Bosco who returns the favour by placing his left hand on the boy’s left shoulder. In his right hand the boy holds a scroll with the words ‘La muerte mas no pecar’ – ‘Death but not sin’ (I don’t really understand that.)

The indigenous boy, on the other hand, couldn’t be represented in a more different way. He is naked apart from an animal skin that is over his left should but his right is bare. His hair is long (the bourgeois’s is trimmed short and tidy) and he has a ‘heathen’ golden band around his head. He is kneeling on the ground and is bare footed. He holds the base of a wooden cross in his right hand and his left hand supports the cross piece. His left cheek is pressed against the cross and he is in the process of going to kiss the cross. He is ignored by the other two characters in the tableau.

He doesn’t even get to have the Bible, all he gets is a bit of old wood.

Cathedral – Punta Arenas, Chile

In this cathedral, in the first chapel on the left as you walk through the main entrance, are two stained glass windows that depict the indigenous people from the local area.

Punta Arenas Cathedral

Punta Arenas Cathedral

The first is of a male figure, with a large animal fur draped around and otherwise naked body, who is bare footed and carries in his hands a bow and arrow. At the bottom of the window is the name Rio Grande a town quite a distance away, even today, on the Atlantic coast of Tierra del Fuego. Above this large figure, which fills most of the window, is the image of a 19th century church building (presumably the main church of Rio Grande – but I never saw it) and in front of this church a priest, both his arms raised high above his head, with a crucifix in his right hand, is preaching to the (male)  heathens who are sitting on the ground in a circle around him.

Punta Arenas Cathedral

Punta Arenas Cathedral

In the same chapel is a companion window, this time of an indigenous woman with a baby on her back. She is also naked but for a large animal skin (do you start to see a pattern developing here?) and is likewise bare footed. I think we can assume the little child is also naked under the skin she shares with his/her mother. The woman is carrying a bag, presumably made from animal skin. below her feet is the name of Isla Dawson, a large island to the south of Punta Arenas.

Above her head this time we have a couple of nuns standing and around them are sitting, on the ground, a group of indigenous women. Out at sea is a large sailing vessel, the image representing modernity and civilisation which the Europeans had brought with them.

So increasingly in these images we are being shown the contrast between what was in Patagonia for many generations – with the low technology and ‘primitiveness’ – as opposed to the modern clothing and way of life that existed in mid-19th century Europe.

There’s another interesting image of the contrast between the two distinctive groups in the cupola over the main altar. I think it’s important to stress that idea of separateness. In none of the images is there any indication of the races mixing. One is of European extraction and is sophisticated the other has been in Patagonia longer but had never achieved anything like the same advances in technology. 

Punta Arenas Cathedral

Punta Arenas Cathedral

Here we maintain the separate education of the boys and the girls. As in the statue in Rio Gallegos the European boys and girls are in their bourgeois Sunday Best. But the area I would to discuss here is the group around the priest on the left.

Cathedral - Punta Arenas

Cathedral – Punta Arenas

This group is comprises six male figures. The priest in the most prominent position, a young adult and three boys – all in late 19th century dress. The five Europeans all have either a paper representing different aspects of religious teaching or have some contact with the written word – the priest has his right hand on a Bible. The idea of modernity is stressed with the inclusion in the classroom of a globe and various scientific instruments.

In the middle sits someone who is totally out of place – and as in the Rio Gallegos statue, he is there but not there. If any of the characters is relating to him in any way it is by bombarding him religious homilies and he looks totally bemused, seeming to say to himself, ‘What am I doing here?’.

As is the norm in such circumstances he is dressed in some animal skin, very much like a sheep’s fleece, but his nakedness, and hence is difference, is depicted here by the bare skin around his throat. His ‘heatheness’ is depicted by the necklace. He’s not on the ground this time but on a small stool but that’s the only level of elevation.

Cathedral – Puerto Natales – Chile

Cathedral - Puerto Natales

Cathedral – Puerto Natales

This again revolves around an image of Bosco. In any painting he will always be depicted in a prominent way, even if only his image is sharper and brighter. And it by this contrast that we see the representation of the indigenous people in the Cathedral of Puerto Natales.

These’s the difference in dress, as we’ve seen before, but here they are also pushed, literally, into the background. The group of three, one standing and two sitting, to the right of Bosco seem to be there merely to fill in the space. They play no role in the story (Bosco never came to Patagonia himself) and seem disinterested in the role they have been asked to play.

Cathedral - Puerto Natales

Cathedral – Puerto Natales

On the left of the painting, however, there’s a story we haven’t come across before. The young boy standing with the red smock is halfway from becoming civilised. He wears trousers and shoes but he is still not quite European as his smock emphasises. He is starting to become European, even with his haircut, but he has adopted the church as he is holding a large book in both his hands. 

I’m not totally sure how to read the three people on the edge of the painting. The two women standing and looking up to Bosco in adoration might be the mother and sister of the boy. These dress is animal skin like though worn in a more ‘European’ fashion that in previous images, i.e., it appears cut to fit in a way other skins weren’t, they were just thrown over a shoulder.

The boy kneeling and in rags might also be a relative of the boy with the book but he is still outside the pale of the church, hence his lowly and marginal situation.

Here we see that the only true way for the indigenous people to advance is to give up their old ways, their old traditions and religions, including their own dress. So there’s no respect paid by the Catholic Church to those old traditions, only the supplanting of them by the cult of Christianity.

Cathedral, Bariloche, Argentina

It might seem a little perverse to be going into Argentinian and Chilean churches looking for ‘proof’ of how they might speak well of the indigenous peoples but that doesn’t reflect reality nor does it reflect how those people have been represented in the art that decorates those churches.

This is the most substantial of the churches I’ve visited so far on this journey, the ones in southern Patagonia being oft times little more than corrugated iron shacks, although big shacks. This one resembles more of what Europeans would recognise as a Cathedral, although falling into the category of a small one.

It is relatively recent, being completed in 1946 but having undergone some major work in the last decade or so. That’s an important date to bear in mind as it shows that these racist and generally disparaging attitudes to the people who were here before the Europeans is really being brought into the present.

A statue here, or a painting on a cupola there can be put down to attitudes and thinking of the past – an argument that I don’t accept but will let it stand for the sake of argument. However, that argument falls down when we are dealing with a couple of stained glass windows, as is the case in the Bariloche Cathedral.

There are a lot of stained glass windows in this building and they don’t come cheap. Most of them are of the general, generic story from the Bible, of the life of Christ etc., etc., etc. Boring really but two of them are different. I’ve seen countless images of Christian Martyrs before but these two are different as they fit into my argument that the Catholic Church, has, is and will always put the interests of itself before the interests of any marginalised group in society. That marginalised group in this case is the indigenous population of Patagonia.

Nicolas Mascardi - Bariloche Cathedral

Nicolas Mascardi – Bariloche Cathedral

This is an image of a priest, in whatever danger he might be not be able to let the crucifix fall from his grasp as he holds it close to his chest, in his left hand, even though he might be in his final death throes. He is being attacked by two aggressive males. As they are ‘indios’ they are naked from the waist up and wear only a simple wrap around skirt. Around their foreheads they wear a band and have long hair. Even the depiction of the hair length is important as long hair for Europeans, at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th was not common and would put you outside the pale.

They are bare footed (of course) whilst he is wearing shoes, the product of European civilisation. Both of them, one in his right hand the other in both hands, hold what could be a wooden club (we don’t see the end but that’s what it appears to me) ready to crush the life out of the priest whose only fault was the wish to bring the truth of the Lord to the ignorant savages.

(It might be worth remembering that when Pinochet led the September 11th 1973 coup against the legally elected government of Salvador Allende it was long hair that condemned many young males to imprisonment and eventual murder in the Santiago football stadium.)

On the other hand the priest, Nicolas Mascardi, is dressed as would a 17th century representative of the Catholic faith. For it was on 15th February 1674 that Mascardi met his maker – and achieved what he was after all the time, martyrdom.

The mountains of Patagonia are in the background and surrounding the scene of the murderous attack are the plants that are found in the region. On the edges of the main image are depictions of the ‘bolas’ – the weights connected to long rope which the ‘savages’ used in hunting. So here we have a reinforcement that the perpetrators were not civilised.

On the ground, having falling from Mascardi’s hand in the violent encounter, lies an open book where we can read the words, in Latin, ‘For the greater glory of God’.

At the bottom of the panel are the words: ‘Martir, IC, DL, R.P Mascardi’ – Martyr, ??, ??, Padre Mascardi’.

Below all, in the middle of a blank, white scroll is the national symbol of Argentina, two bodyless arms holding a stick from either side upon which is a red peasant’s cap. (A strange national symbol but it seems that in the 1830s the new independent state of Argentina needed a symbol and that one was available.)

The second is of another priest on the point of martyrdom. This time Padre Poggio. This looks like a Mission is being attacked (Mascardi was treacherously attacked while alone in the countryside). Buildings are on fire and smoke is everywhere, there are even flames and smoke in the chapel, where a table knocked over gives the impression of the chaos caused by the attack.

Poggio - Bariloche Cathedral

Poggio – Bariloche Cathedral

The ‘indios’ are dressed the same as in the previous stained glass window. One of them, outside the chapel, is just about to club to death one of the faithful. Another, who we see in full, is just about to plunge a spear into the chest of another of the faithful who is falling over in his attempt to save the Mission, the chapel and the priest.

Throughout all this chaos Padre Poggio remains calm, resigned to his fate he is on his knees praying to an unseen crucifix. The altar remains intact and clean. There’s a golden chalice sitting upon the white, embroidered cloth behind which an open book has the single word ‘Oreimus’. To complete the tableau a candle burns in a candlestick on the right of the altar.

Poggio is from a later era. His clothing is a large white vestment and on his left shoulder is the symbol of the Argentina.

Likewise with Mascardi has the words ‘Martir, IC, DL, P Poggio’ – Martyr, ??, ??, Padre Poggio’ and the Argentinian national symbol below all.

Both these windows can be found on the left hand side of the nave, looking towards the altar.

It might be said that these images reflect a past which has changed (but an expensive past, stained glass windows of such complexity don’t come cheap) but that’s not the case. In the Cathedral there’s an exhibition which includes the names of 5 ‘martyrs’ from the 17th and 18th centuries. Mascardi appears there but strangely, as he merits a window, Poggio is not.

So, for the Catholic Church and those active in the faith in Bariloche the fate of these priests still has resonance.

The problem with this situation is that there is an overwhelming stress on the importance of the Europeans, a Eurocentric (or perhaps now ‘western centric’) approach to other countries and peoples, that Europe is always right. If these same ‘indios’ had arrived in Europe and had attempted to convert the people there to their religion those who opposed that would have been seen as heroes and would have had stained glass windows commissioned in their honour – in the event that the invasion had been defeated.

But when the indigenous people of the Americas, both north, central and south, tried to do the same to protect their homes, their lifestyle, their culture and religion they are seen as being murderous savages.

Is there any point in saying more?

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National Malvinas Monument – Ushuaia

Ushuaia - the capital of the Malvinas

Ushuaia – the capital of the Malvinas

National Malvinas Monument – Ushuaia

The Monument to the Fallen in the Malvinas War in Ushuaia is the biggest I’ve seen so far and gleaning information from its constituent parts it has evolved over time and now comprises of 4 major and distinctive elements. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the monument in the most southerly town is the biggest as Ushuaia considers itself ‘the capital of the Malvinas’.

The orientation of the park is in the direction of the Beagle Channel and the outlet that will lead to the Atlantic and, eventually, the Malvinas.

Malvinas Island Park

The Original Monument?

The Original Monument?

If I read things correctly the first stage in the development of the memorial was the establishment of a green area on the edge of the town centre, next to the water and the port of Ushuaia. The most simple, and almost hand made, sign in the area states:

Here has been constructed a park in homage to those who fell fighting for the just cause of national sovereignty for the Malvinas Islands and the South Atlantic Region.

The Malvinas Veterans Centre, the Municipality and the Community of Ushuaia.

2nd April 1988

(The 2nd April is the date of the beginning of the war.)

The park is a large, oval construction between the dual carriageway that serves traffic along the coast road.

The Principal Sculptural Monument

The Sculptural Monument

The Sculptural Monument

The principal artistic monument is a large, concrete rectangle that sits on a low plinth. This rectangle has a rough design of the two principal islands that make up the Malvinas group cut out of the concrete so – depending on the angle you look at it – you see either the mountains in the distance or the buildings along the river front.

One side is unadorned and just painted green. On the other side is fixed a metal sculpture. As with previous attempts to interpret Argentinian Malvinas memorials I can’t work out what it is trying to say.

This sculpture is a mix of bas relief and almost whole body fixtures. All the figures are male and naked.

In the bottom right hand corner are two figures, One is kneeling, with his hands on the floor, and facing the viewer. To his left is another figure, showing a left profile and has the left knee on the ground and the other leg bent at 90º. Resting on this right knee is what I think is a flaming torch which he has gripped in his right hand in the middle. This seems to be some sort of offering to the other person of the pair but he doesn’t seem too interested as his head is only barely turned a few degrees towards the presenter of the homage. This could be a representation of an eternal flame.

Moving left there’s a group of naked prone figures – presumably dead – in bas relief. We don’t see all of the body and one of the figures is decapitated and many of the limbs are truncated.

Further left still we see the head, back and buttocks of another male. He is facing the wall so there’s no features. The right arm is raised and it looks like the palm of his hand is pressed against his forehead.

Moving further left is another figure, this time in profile – the right side showing. He is crouched down, only his toes touching the ground and he’s sitting on his ankles. His right arm is extended between his knees and his head is bowed. There is a feeling of despair from this figure. Even though the positioning of this figure would allow for some detail to be in the face here there is none. What we see is almost skeletal, with huge eye sockets. I’m not sure if he is wearing something on his head or whether it is the representation of short, wiry hair.

Finally, in the very bottom left, is a small plaque with the name of the foundry and the date of 1992. The name of the sculptor, Vilma Nattero de Martinella, is under the two kneeling figures on the bottom right. I’ve tried to find out more about her but have hit a brick wall. I thought that knowing a little bit about her background might have helped in translating her images but I had no luck.

All these elements are below the design of the islands.

In the space between the top of the islands and the top edge of the rectangle are four pairs of fighting figures in bas relief. There’s no detail in any of the faces and they all have various truncated limbs.

The only other figure on this face is that of a male nude, facing the viewer. He has his right arm raised and his right fist is clenched in a salute. His left arm is across his chest and he is holding something in his left hand but I don’t know what. His legs below the knees disappears into the concrete.

The plinth upon which this sculpture sits is angled out by about 45º and on this, in large bronze letters, are the words ‘El pueblo de Ushuaia a quienes ….. con su sangre regaron las raices de nuestra soberania sobre Malvinas …. Volveremos!!! (The people of Ushuaia to those who …. with their blood irrigate the roots of our sovereignty over the Malvinas …. We will return!!!)

These words sit above eight plaques which contain the names of the 649 Argentinian soldiers, sailors and airmen who lost their lives in the 1982 conflict.

In the centre of these eight plaques is the Argentinian National Coat of Arms.

Monument to the Heroes of the Belgrano

The Belgrano Monument

The Belgrano Monument

This is the most recent addition to the elements of the Memorial Park and has only been there for a few years. It sits to the left of the sculpture and just in front of the eternal flame.

This is in the design of a truncated pyramid and commemorates the 323 sailors who died when the light cruiser Belgrano was sunk by the British Navy’s nuclear-powered submarine Conqueror.

If there were chances of a negotiated resolution of the dispute over the Malvinas in the month after the Argentinian forces arrived on the Malvinas any avoidance of a conflict became impossible after the 2nd May 1982 with the sinking of this ship and the huge loss of life.

It’s a simple but effective monument, made so by the design of a symbol which encompasses many elements from the Argentinian side of the conflict.

Carved into the marble are the words ‘Honor a los 323 heroes del crucero ARA General Belgrano, 2 de Mayo 1982.’ (This translates as ‘Honour to the 323 Heroes of the Navy of the Republic of Argentina on the cruiser General Belgrano, 2nd May 1982.’)

Above these words is a brass plaque which refers to the ‘Friends of the Cruiser General Belgrano Association’. I assume they were the ones who raised the money for the memorial. (This is another reason why I think that the Malvinas memorials, in the main, throughout the country are not State sponsored.)

Above that plaque there’s an interesting design. Whether it is used elsewhere or not I wouldn’t know. It is likely that it was designed for this particular monument.

There’s a semi-circle made up of a sky blue line, a white line in the middle and then another sky blue line. This represents the colours of the Argentinian national flag. This ‘flag’ wraps around the bottom part of the Islas Malvinas. Across the centre of the circle described by the blue and white semi-circle is a bas relief of the starboard side of the cruiser Belgrano. Finally, as a background to the warship there’s the blazing Sun of May, the symbol that sits in the centre of the official Argentinian flag.

The Eternal Flame

The Eternal Flame

The Eternal Flame

The next element must have been State sponsored – it’s too big and needs constant maintenance of the eternal flame to be a local affair. It was inaugurated on the 30th anniversary (of the disgusting and unnecessary war) in 2012.

It consists of a sunken pit which is lined by artificial grass (I don’t think the real thing thrives in the windy and salty environment of Tierra del Fuego). In the middle of this area there’s a square composed of white marble tiles. On these, from top to bottom, is inscribed in black lettering (obviously in Spanish) 2nd April 1982 – 2nd April 2012. Between these dates is the word ‘Malvinas’. Underneath the word Malvinas is a sketch of the islands themselves. Finally, using the Roman numerals XXX, we read 30th Anniversary.

On the same white marble square, at the back, is an eternal flame, in a circular metal container (painted white) on a combination of circular and square pedestals.

The whole area of the eternal flame is ‘protected’ by chains suspended from black metal pillars with golden ferrules.

Separated from the eternal flame pit by a walkway is a concave memorial wall on which is inscribed, in white letters, the same names of the 649 Argentinian dead as appear on the older monument described above.

Over these lists of names are the words ‘Para que todos los heroes custodian por siempre nuestra soberania’ – meaning ‘In order that all of our heroes take care of our sovereignty forever’.

The individuals who are attributed to the design and construction of this part of the monumental park are: Micaela C Barroca, Alberto R Santos and Cristian N Valencio.

On the left hand side of the eternal flame is a totally inappropriate – both in terms of design and content – ‘message’ from the Catholic Church. In a reddish brown arch, which really clashes with the black marble of the eternal flame and memorial wall, is a cheap printed image of a version of a floating in the air Virgin Mary (Our Lady of the Malvinas) over the cemetery for the Argentinian dead that is presently in the British occupied islands. This makes reference to the fact that her image has been vandalised in the Argentine cemetery in the Darwin (no seemingly Spanish name for this place).

To the left of that Catholic aspect (the first religious presence I’ve seen at any of the Malvinas monuments so far) is a long, low wall which contains the obligatory plaques of those who, over the years, want to declare their support for whatever cause the monument might be supporting.

There’s a couple from the Kirchners (the Peronistas) when they held the post of President, making a claim to their populist stance. Although one of them has slipped a little – the plaque I mean. I don’t know why these monuments aren’t better maintained. They seem to be established and then, more or less, ignored, until it will be politically expedient to clean them up again.

An open air photo exhibition

The Photographic Gallery

The Photographic Gallery

The fourth major element of the monumental park is a permanent photographic exhibition which is presented on 14, two-sided stands which are in an arc, on the pavement, on the eastern side of the park.

I have no problem with the concept of such a photographic record of the events of 1982 but the problem here is its execution. If you are going to tell a story in photographs from the time then a) you should tell a coherent story and keep images in a chronological order and b) you should make sure that the stands and the images contained in them can withstand the extremes of weather that are normal in this part of the world and don’t degrade.

The pictures weren’t particularly good examples of those produced at the time, on either side, but even reading the captions (which are in Spanish, English and Brazilian Portuguese) I wasn’t able to really follow any story. The fact that water had leaked under the perspex and were degrading the images from within and that the sun had also bleached many of them from without doesn’t help. So instead of presenting a short photographic telling of the events the viewer is left bemused, confused and annoyed – or at least this viewer was.

I’m not concerned about there being a propaganda aspect to the images – it’s what I would expect in Britain in any telling of the war – but there were images included which didn’t make sense. Why, for example, have a picture of British sailors brushing off the salt on the wings of a Sea Harrier? What is this telling us?

At the time of the war in 1982 the Argentines were in negotiations with the British about supplying the Argentine Air Force with Harrier jump jets. If Galtieri wasn’t such a prick there could have been a situation where British made Harriers would have been facing each other on both sides. That’s a story to tell, and should have been told in the Rio Gallegos Malvinas War Museum (but wasn’t), not trying to give the background to those who weren’t even alive at the time just some random pictures to look at.

The gallery contains all the photos on those stands, including (for some bizarre reason) a couple of duplicates, and in the order they appear on the street from left to right, so you can make up your own mind about how the story is being told. There are 28 photos in total.

A song and a pledge

There’s an arch over the western end of the park and flanking this arch are two boards, one with the (partial) lyrics of a song by an Argentinian popular singer song-writer, the other by Pablo B Rodriquez (about whom I can find no information).

The Pledge

Volver a Malvinas

Sin odios ni recores, con coraje, en alto la bandera de la Patria llegaremos con firmeza a nuestra islas que usaparon un día los piratas.

Nuestra enseña está latiendo al viento allí donde ayer la metralla, segando la vida a tantos jóvenes que el camino de regreso nos señala.

Nuestros muertos queridos, a Malvinas desde sus tumbas mantienen custodiada …. por ellos voveremos, por su ejemplo, por el sacrificio de su sangre derramada.

El cielo que tambien es Argentino ya la izó la bandera azul y blanco.

Pablo B Rodriquez

My translation:

Return to Malvinas

Without hatred or resentment, with courage, with the flag of the Fatherland flying high we will arrive steadfast on our islands that one day the pirates stole from us.

Our school is beating in the wind where yesterday the shrapnel, which took the lives of so many young people will show us the way back.

Our beloved dead, from their graves keep guard on the Malvinas … for them we will return, by their example, for the sacrifice of their shed blood.

The sky is also Argentine and hoists the blue and white flag.

Pablo B Rodriquez

The song

La isla de la buena memoria

The island of good memories


Madre, me voy a la isla,

no se contra quién pelear;

tal vez luche o me resista,

o tal vez me muera allá.


Mother, I’m going to the island, I don’t know who I will fight;

I might fight or resist, or I might die there.


Qué haré con el uniforme

cuando empiece a pelear,

con el casco y con las botas,

ni siquiera sé marchar.


What to do with the uniform when you start to fight,

With the helmet and boots, I can not even go


Desde que llegué a la isla

no tengo con quién hablar.

Somos miles los unidos

por la misma soledad.


Since I arrived on the island I don’t have anyone to speak to.

We are thousands united in the same solitude


Ya se escuchan los disparos

entre muerte y libertad,

cae mi cuerpo agujereado,

ya no podré cantar más.


Already can be heard the shots between death and liberty,

my pierced body falls, now I can’t sing any more.


Creo que hace mucho frío por allá;

hay más miedos como el mío en la ciudad.


I think it’s very cold there;

There are more fears like mine in the city.


No hay mal que no tenga nombre,

no hay un Dios a quien orar,

no hay hermanos ni soldados,

ya no hay jueces ni jurados,


There’s no evil that doesn’t have a name, there’s no God to pray to,

there aren’t brothers nor soldiers, now there are no judges and juries,


sólo hay una guerra más …

y cada vez hay menos paz.


There’s only another war …. and each time less peace


Alejandro Lerner – singer, song-writer

The song can be listened to here. I must admit it didn’t do a lot for me.


It’s the big square at the far end (Block 1300) of Avenida Maipu, just opposite the huge Casino.


S 54.81021

W 68.31581


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Museum of the Malvinas War – Rio Gallegos

Museum of the Malvinas War - Rio Gallegos

Museum of the Malvinas War – Rio Gallegos

Museum of the Malvinas War – Rio Gallegos

Having seen a couple of monuments to the 1982 Malvinas War in various parts of Argentina (including one in Rio Gallegos itself) I was quite interested in understanding how the country approached that war when I learnt there was a museum to the conflict in the town of Rio Gallegos. After all, Argentina lost that war but still maintains it’s claim to the islands and you are unlikely to encounter an Argentinian who doesn’t hold that idea with total enthusiasm and conviction. Museums to conflicts established by the losers are rare – for example, I have never heard of a museum in Germany about the Second World War or a museum in the United States to their failed aggression in Vietnam. With that background I was anticipating something quite unique in the town.

However I was to be disappointed as after having spent a few minutes in the small, four room museum I felt more bemused than anything else. If you have a museum to the conflict then surely it’s necessary to tell the story of why it took place and presenting the reasons for the attempt to retake the islands from the British.

But there’s no explanation at all about why the Argentinian Army was sent to the Malvinas at the beginning of April 1982. No mention of the political situation in the country at the time – even though the military dictatorship of that time fell as a result of the failure in the Malvinas. No mention of Argentina’s historical claim to the islands and no mention of how the situation stands at the moment.

In fact it’s just the opposite. It seems, according to the introduction given by the woman in charge of the museum, there was a conscious decision NOT to address these issues. But by doing so it negates the reason for the museum in the first place.

The first room appears more like a toy shop than a museum as there are glass cases full of models of the ships, aircraft and weaponry used by both sides. But this was without context. There was no mention of the importance of the Sea Harriers which were able to withstand the harsh conditions of the South Atlantic. No mention that as both sides were using some of the same weapons the Argentines were able to sink the Sheffield with an Exorcet missile as the Sheffield also used them and the ship’s defence system was confused.

Amongst the models there were a few notable absences. The Atlantic Conveyor was missing from the collection of models but it’s inclusion in the British battle fleet was crucial in acting as a decoy for the Invincible, the British command ship. Also missing were the two landing ships, the Sir Galahad and the Sir Tristram, whose bombing resulted in the greatest loss of life in a single incident for the British armed forces since World War Two.

A model of the Vulcan bomber was there but no mention of its success in damaging the runway at Puerto Argentino (known as Port Stanley by the British).

Everything in this room seemed to be aimed at sanitising the whole sordid affair of 1982.

In another room there was an attempt to act on the emotions of any Argentinians who might visit the museum as there were letters from children to their fathers who were involved in the war – whether the recipients survived or not was not clear to me.

In fact it was only in the room where examples of the clothing and equipment used at the time that you get any sense that you are in a museum. Much of this equipment would bemuse children as technology has developed so much in the intervening 36 years and they wouldn’t be able to get to grips with the size of the field telephone.

This museum really isn’t worth visiting (apart from trying to work out why it’s there in the first place) and is really a lost opportunity on behalf of the Argentines. After all it could have been an opportunity to argue their case for possession of the islands, an argument few in Britain would know about.

There’s another museum in Buenos Aires which I plan to visit when I’m next there so it will be interesting to see how the matter is approached in the capital.

These museums don’t get a mention in British guidebooks but it would be churlish of me to suggest that this is a sign of censorship – conscious or unconscious.

They were, are and will be Argentina

They were, are and will be Argentina

Practical Details

Museo de Guerra Malvinas Argentinas

Pasteur 72

Rio Gallegos


Monday-Friday 11.00-16.30

Saturday-Sunday 10.00-16.30

Ring the bell if door closed.


S 51.62568

W 069.22165

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