STATE OF DISAPPEARANCE
Confronting the Terror of the Void
“Disappearance is marked by a devastating absence. It constitutes a form of violence that rips open a wound in time. It offers no viable recovery and no meaningful justice. It provisions alibis to perpetrators, while denying the victims their very humanity. And for those who are left to live with its presence, the terror is unending".
Brad Evans & Chantal Meza
This initial impetus project was conceived back in 2017 as a result of responding to the violence of disappearance, which had become an everyday reality in Chantal's home country of Mexico. As she began her own witnessing to this through art, our subsequent discussions raised a number of crucial questions for us. Not least: - How can we do justice to a shattering absence? How could we bring our own grammatical tools to bare on a problem that took us beyond the threshold of intelligibility? What could political philosophy say when confronting the limits of language and what could art say when all presence is being denied?
Confronting these questions we understood demanded a collaborative response between the arts & philosophy. It also demanded a wider conversation with a community of intellectuals, who could allow us to reimagine the truly unimaginable. Recognising this, we began this journey noting that while disappearance is undoubtedly terrifying for its victims and families, there was a need to reimagine the term disappearance itself within a more considered and intimate frame. It was necessary to account for the terror which lives on in the minds of everybody it touches, not only to focus attention on the absence of bodies, but to also consider broader issues on the roles between perpetrators, victims and witnesses, onto the ways it forces a fundamental rupture in the logics of space and time. Indeed, we felt that it was only by addressing it on these terms that we might be able to ask serious questions about what role art and critical thinking have when confronting this devastating problem, which by its very definition, exceeds the limits of aesthetic and philosophical engagement on account of its very absence and denials.
Listen here to in-depth conversation between project directors.
Art Against Oblivion
The State of Disappearance project began with an artistic response. It was inspired by the artwork of Chantal Meza, who sought to readdress the multiple ways disappearance has occurred throughout history. This raised many issued that further inspired an entire collection of artworks dedicated to the project.
These artworks have sought to bear witness to disappearance by attending to its apparitions, the obscure beasts that are brought into vision, the beginnings of such absence, the fragmented catastrophes they induce, the collapse of consciousness it provokes, along with creation of non-spaces of devastating habitation, we have elected to call the void.
The Full Online Exhibition can be viewed here:
Chantal Meza is a renowned Mexican abstract artist and writer. She is currently based in the United Kingdom.
Brad Evans is the founder & director of the Histories of Violence project. He is Professor of Political Violence & Aesthetics at the University of Bath
If art is to deal with the question of violence, then it must confront the kidnappings, femicides, repressions, clandestine graves, enforced disappearances, the murders of journalists, extrajudicial executions, as well as the indifference to such horrifying crimes.
Interview with the artist:
Theatre of the Disappeared
The State of Disappearance book is currently in production with McGill-Queens University Press. It is set for publication in the fall of 2023.
Co-curated by the project directors it will feature 14 contributions from leading academics and also showcase the full catalogue of artwork from series (see below).
B. Evans & C. Meza, The Intimate Witness: Art & the Disappeared of History (Los Angeles Review of Books, October 22nd 2018)
B. Evans, Painting a State of Terror (Artlyst, November 11th 2017)
B. Evans, An Open Letter to Mara Fernanda Castilla (Counterpunch, September 22nd 2017)
B. Evans, Remembering the 43 (The Los Angeles Review of Books, September 9th 2017)
Numerous lectures and recorded discussions have been delivered on the theme of disappearance by the projects directors. Among these have included Harvard University, NorthWestern University Paris Program, Peace & Science Journal (Germany) UCC Cork, and Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City. Videos featured as listed below.