[Image: Museos en Paro, Alianza Colombiana de Museos]
By Catalina Delgado Rojas
Symbolic reparations are part of the transitional justice framework, a process that societies experiencing conflict or massive human rights violation undertake to transition to a more peaceful scenario. However, state-sponsored symbolic reparation memorials are constantly affected by multiple variables of the social and political context in which they are placed. To have a better understanding of symbolic reparations, we need to reevaluate the linear and future-oriented approach of memorialization practices.
Symbolic reparation is a hazy concept. Indeed, international policy definitions and academic literature offer a series of examples of what they could be, such as museums and memorials, rather than daring to define the term. Policy documents, relate them with multidimensional representations of memory and the redress of victims’ rights (Salvioli & United Nations, 2020). They are perceived as important but complementary parts of reparation programmes (De Greiff, 2006), which might explain why this term has been under-defined. Reparations are part of the transitional justice framework, a process that societies experiencing conflict or massive human rights violation undertake to transition to a more peaceful scenario. This system establishes a pre-set goal and organizes actors accordingly. For example, truth and reparation will lead us to non-repetition. However, reparations are a much more complex process. They are not built-in ideal scenarios; therefore, they face many challenges during the implementation. State-sponsored memorials, for example, are constantly affected by multiple variables of the social and political context in which they are placed and the multiplicity of actors interacting in the creation of these projects.
To have a better understanding of symbolic reparations, we need to adopt a more complex approach to these initiatives. In complexity theory “the result is greater than the sum of its parts”(Cilliers, 2000). Thus, to understand a result, we need to analyse the multiplicity of its different parts. In this framework, context matters as it sets up the initial conditions of emergence and behaviour of the elements. Then, complexity theory focuses on capturing the dynamic interactions to understand how local actors respond to the real world. The contextual, dynamic, and non-linear properties can also shed some light on the complex system’s butterfly effects where small changes have large consequences. The reactions against the Colombian Government’s use of Fragments, the memorial to the victims, can be catalogued as a butterfly effect.
Fragments is the first symbolic reparation memorial to the victims inaugurated after the Peace Agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian Government. The counter-monument displaying 37 tons of smelted weapons handed by the ex-guerrilla is one of the outcomes of a transitional justice process, framed by the principles of Law 1448 of 2011. The Victims’ Law defines symbolic reparations as initiatives aiming to disseminate historical memory, perpetrators’ public acknowledgement of the facts, demand for forgiveness, foster non-repetition and redress of the victims’ rights (Victims Law 1448, 2011). However, besides being characterised as a symbolic reparation, Fragments is a multivariate space. It can be described as a memorial, an art space, a memory space, a state-sponsored project, and a museum annexe.
To begin, this memorial is a counter-monument aiming to controvert official narratives of the conflict while highlighting the victim’s feelings of absence, silence and pain left by more than 50 years of conflict. Even though the victims are the monument’s main concern, the construction of this counter monument raised quite a few debates. As a symbolic reparation for the victims there were questions around who should build the monument and how should victims participate in the process (Universidad Externado de Colombia , 2017). In this case, the artist asked for the collaboration of the Red de Mujeres Víctimas y Profesionales in the production of the monument. After the inauguration, one of the questions haunting the memorial was: what happens to truth, reparation, and non-repetition now? One of the vantage points of Fragments is that it is an ongoing art space. Artists will intervene in the counter-monument at least for the next 50 years, the same amount of years Colombia has been in conflict. Even though researchers and practitioners have underlined the potentiality of contemporary art to memorialise trauma through emotions, there is a risk to reduce memory to an aesthetic concern and create disconnection with the victims and the local communities (Cass et al., 2020).
Fragments can also be catalogued as a memory space. As a symbolic reparation aiming to disseminate historical memory, the project should value the victims’ emotions and perspectives on the conflict (Corredor et al., 2018). The institutional body that has enacted this responsibility is the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) which has organized events to listen to the Victims and conference to reflect on sexual violence against women. However, the representation of memory in symbolic reparation projects can also have negative consequences such as re-victimization and polarization. We cannot forget that Fragments is a state-sponsored project aiming to legitimise a transitional process and the state institutions in the eyes of society and the international community. These under-stated motives can lead to larger consequences such as political manipulation, censorship and so on. In this case, the careless and insensitive occupation of the president’s cabinet of the memorial to the victims represents the Governments’ reluctance towards the Peace Agreement and the lack of compromise to the accountability of the role of state institutions in Colombia‘s ongoing history of Violence.
After the memorial’s inauguration, Fragments became the National Museum of Colombia‘s cultural annexe. As a larger institution with established community engagement processes and education activities, it also brings the opportunity to foster and welcome the appropriation of both spaces by the victims, organisations and the civil society. The project A Museum for Me is a clear-cut example of the positive outcomes of placing victims at the centre stage. Even though the National Museum of Colombia is also a state-managed institution, these processes can be supported and monitored by a wider Museological Alliance. During these last weeks of protests and human rights violations, this alliance and other networks of cultural practitioners such as Gente de Museos, have taken a stand against institutional “neutrality” and in support of their communities.
Cass, N., Park, G., & Powell, A. (Eds.). (2020). Contemporary art in heritage spaces. Routledge.
Cilliers, P. (2000). What Can We Learn From a Theory of Complexity? Emergence, 2(1), 23–33. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327000EM0201_03
Victims Law 1448, (2011) (testimony of Congress of the Republic of Colombia).
Corredor, J., Wills-Obregon, M. E., & Asensio-Brouard, M. (2018). Historical memory education for peace and justice: Definition of a field. Journal of Peace Education, 15(2), 169–190. https://doi.org/10.1080/17400201.2018.1463208
De Greiff, P. (2006). Justice and Reparations. In P. De Greiff (Ed.), The handbook of reparations (pp. 452–4721). Oxford University Press.
Salvioli, F., & United Nations. (2020). Memorialization processes in the context of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law: The fifth pillar of transitional justice (Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence A/HRC/45/45; Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development, p. 19). United Nations. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G20/175/70/PDF/G2017570.pdf?OpenElement
Universidad externado de Colombia & coloquio universitario: “el monumento con las armas fundidas de las farc-ep”. (2017, November 1). 29 recomendaciones: Coloquio universitario: “el monumento con las armas fundidas de las farc-ep” ¿quién/ cómo/dónde debería ser/ hacer/ estar el monumento? Derecho Arte y Cultura. https://derechoarteycultura.uexternado.edu.co/las-29-recomendaciones-del-coloquio-universitario-el-monumento-con-las-armas-fundidas-de-las-farc-ep/
Catalina is a Colombian PhD student at the Institute of Cultural Practices at the University of Manchester. She holds a BA in Political Sciences, a MA in Social Anthropology from the University of the Andes, and a MA in Museology from the National University of Colombia. Her previous work as a researcher has been focused on women in sports, public heritage and digital humanities and gender approach in Latin American museums. She has professional experience in the cultural sector in Bogotá developing educational workshops, curating exhibitions, creating community heritage projects, and assorting provenance archives. In 2019, she was part of the education and public activities team in Fragmentos. Her research is concerned with state-sponsored museums and memorials as a symbolic reparation strategy in transitional societies. Email: Catalina.email@example.com