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Empathy, Healing and Justice: A Transnational Story of Resistance in Chile

The 1970s brought violence and fear to Chile.

  • On 11th September 1973, General Pinochet’s coup marked the end of Salvador Allende’s presidency and the beginning of a brutal period in Latin American history.
  • From Allende’s death until 1990, Chile was ruled by a military junta that carried out a program of persecuting alleged dissidents, in which over 3,000 civilians disappeared or were killed.

During this period, almost 3,000 Chileans escaped political persecution, coming to the UK as refugees.

Professor Alison Ribeiro de MenezesLink opens in a new window from the School of Modern Languages and CulturesLink opens in a new window is studying the UK-based refugee effort and the experiences of those involved in order to address the fact that the stories of these particular refugees lack a more formal legacy (being largely absent from the collection of Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights, for instance). In exploring the neglected experiences of this group, Professor Ribeiro de Menezes has devised strategies to share their story more widely as well as to approach the traumatic impact of this violent period in Chile’s history.

Together with postdoctoral researcher Dr Verónica Diaz Cerda, she has been working with theatre group Ephemeral Ensemble to develop a performance based on her findings. The resulting piece, REWIND, explores the role of forensic science in recovering disappeared persons and providing reparative justice through aesthetic practice. Ephemeral Ensemble focus on physical theatre and use little dialogue, making their work ideally suited to diverse and multilingual audiences. REWIND gives audiences an insight into the experiences of the victims of dictatorship, and enables survivors themselves to convey their story and explore reparative justice. REWIND is to be staged at venues across the UK as well as in Chile, Colombia and Brazil.

When the project was first conceived, REWIND focused on Chilean repression and resistance, drawing on Ribeiro de Menezes’ oral history research with exiles in the UK and those who returned to Chile. The show has since developed a stronger focus on forced disappearance and reparative justice, and extends its understanding of the phenomenon to Latin America more generally. Repression and forced disappearance varied in configuration or historical circumstances across Latin America, but not in impact and consequences. Supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Impact Fund, the team is extending the locations of the performance to reach wider audiences (including victims’ relatives and perpetrators).

The Director of Ephemeral Ensemble, Ramon Ayres, gave the following statement on the project:

My name is Ramon Ayres and I grew up in Brazil. A fun fact about me is that me and the Brazilian democracy are almost the same age. Although I didn’t grow up under a dictatorship regime, I have lived the echo of one. Looking at current events happening around the world, I feel sad to see history repeating itself over and over again.

A vast number of people have been affected by authoritarian systems and are experiencing human rights violation. REWIND was created with the urge to express a response to those recurring events. REWIND shines a light in the dark to reveal an intimate experience of victims in search for justice. Although the performance is based on memories of Latin America, the piece reflects the time and the situation that we find ourselves in as a global society. “Memory produces hope in the same way that amnesia produces despair,” Walter Brueggeman. REWIND brings the past and the future into dialogue, and places empathy at the fore.

The performance honours the many thousands of civilians that went missing because of their opposition to ruthless dictatorship; and offers a homage to the humanitarian work of Forensic Anthropology.

REWIND has an immediate connection to migrants and refugees in the UK, but we have been engaging with all sorts of audiences. REWIND is a powerful performance, which shares an experience that connects the audience through empathy and solidarity in an emotional and thought-provoking way.

You can also read more hear about Dr Verónica Diaz Cerda, postdoctoral researcher on the project, who is herself Chilean and grew up during Pinochet’s dictatorship: