Book Review, Current Issue, Vol. 31 No.3

Memory, Transitional Justice, and Theatre in Postdictatorship Argentina

Memory, Transitional Justice, and Theatre in Postdictatorship Argentina. Noe Montez. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2017; Pp. 239 + xi.

The precarious era of Argentina’s dictatorship (1976-1982) stifled political resistance and artistic expression. However, the years following the administrative regimes of Jorge Rafael Videla, Emilio Massera, and Leopoldo Galtieri prompted many people in the newly democratic Argentina to reflect upon and recoup their national identities. Noe Montez’s Memory, Transitional Justice, and Theatre in Postdictatorship Argentina considers (re)emerging individual and collective memory narratives and their effects on judicial policies in Argentina’s transitional postdictatorship period. Drawing on contemporary research in memory studies and theatre history, Montez recounts the momentous artistic reactions to policies implemented by the administrations of Carlos Menem, Néstor Carlos Kirchner Jr., and Cristina Kirchner. In so doing, Montez’s text contributes to a growing repertoire of Argentine works in the field of performance studies. As Montez himself rightly notes, the vast majority of scholarship on theatrical responses to the dictatorship tends to focus on the oeuvres of more internationally renowned playwrights such as Ricardo Bartis, Griselda Gambaro, and Eduardo Pavlovsky, whose works were staged during or directly following the dictatorship. Instead, Montez charts the trajectory of emerging directors, playwrights, actors, designers, and companies that flourished in Buenos Aires during this transitional era.

Montez divides his book into four chapters, arranged chronologically to highlight theatrical productions that reacted to each administration’s approach to transitional justice and contributed to collective memory. Chapter one explores “disconstructive resistances,” a term that is never fully unpacked but appears to refer to the disjuncture between collective memory narratives and state-sanctioned memory narratives constructed and propagated by the Menem administration’s Truth and Reconciliation hearings held from 1989 to 1999. Each of the four plays that Montez examines in this chapter considers the limitations of state-sanctioned narratives of impunity, to say nothing of clemency and amnesty policies, directed toward those in office accused of human rights violations. Montez devotes a substantial amount of space to key performance groups and playwrights including El Periférico de Objetos, Javier Daulte, Marcelo Bertuccio, and Luis Cano. He describes their use of multimedia and avant-garde artistic practices to advance their political agendas; by exposing the artifice of authorized modes of remembrance, these artists resisted the Menem administration’s politics of erasure.

The second chapter centers on how Teatroxlaindentidad, a long-running Buenos Aires-based theatre festival created to raise awareness about the hundreds of children kidnapped during the dictatorship, collaborated with artists to promote public access to declassified archives. Montez notes that works by Patricia Zangaro, Hector Levy-Daniel, and Mariana Eva Perez demonstrate the value of historical archives for the construction of personal and national identities. However, Montez adds a further dimension: he studies how institutional support from non-theatrical entities impacts an organization’s overall creative output and longevity. He offers as an example Teatroxlaindentidad’s partnership with the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The partnership is notable because the goals of the latter imposed significant restraints on the artistic visions of the former, specifically in the earliest years of this alliance. Indeed, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and other stakeholders limited commissioned work in the festival’s line-up to those who spoke directly to reuniting kidnapped children with their next of kin through genetic testing.

In the second half of the book, Montez attempts to capture the ideological dissonance of various agents staking claims to history. Chapter three, “Reparation, Commemoration, and Memory Construction in the Postdictatorship Generation,” looks at the importance of self-archiving or self-reflexive personal testimony as a means of talking back to state-appointed sites of memory. Of particular interest are those testimonies that “talk back” to sites established during the Néstor and Cristina Kirchner administrations (2003-2007 and 2007-2015, respectively). Montez delineates the social divide between those who favored the Kirchner administrations’ memorialization efforts and those who did not. Meanwhile, in the final chapter, Montez explores four theatrical performances produced alongside Christina Kirchner’s rebranding of the Malvinas War (also known as the Falklands War). Montez describes how the Kirchner administration sought to recast this national defeat as a point of nationalistic remembrance, shaping memory narratives of the war and the people of Malvinas. While works by Patricio Adadi, Mariana Mazover, and Lisandro Fiks critiqued Kirchner’s commemoration, Julio Cardoso’s vision fell in line with the administration’s memorialization efforts as he opted to honor veterans as heroes. The differing reactions to the Malvinas War demonstrate how acts of remembrance can be linked to acts of erasure in a variety of contradictory ways. Though Montez does not explicitly make this point, one can surmise that the opposing artistic treatments of the Falkland Islands mirror the contradictory socio-political views of these territories today.

Montez’s illustration of performance and social engagement in postdictatorship Argentina highlights the nation’s vibrant and tenacious theatre scene. More importantly, his book draws attention to Argentina’s artistic agents—long neglected by U.S. scholars and theatre audiences—who are determined to grapple with identity, social justice, and individual/collective memory. Montez weaves pertinent historical content with play descriptions for what is, overall, an assessment of current artistic measures that seek to reify or contest dominant memory narratives. Scholars of Latinx theatre and performance, specifically those who concentrate on politics, will value Montez’s timely study of artistic mobilization in postdictatorship Argentina. I would, however, recommend this book be read in conjunction with texts by Diana Taylor and Jean Graham-Jones; though often cited, reading their respective theories on performance and activism firsthand may deepen understanding of Montez’s argument. Memory, Transitional Justice, and Theatre in Postdictatorship Argentina contributes to the growing archive of memory studies and, more importantly, to nuancing the fledgling U.S. awareness of Latin American performance and performance studies scholarship in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Karina Gutiérrez
Stanford University

The Journal of American Drama and Theatre
Volume 31, Number 3 (Spring 2019)

ISNN 2376-4236
©2019 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center

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