For two weeks during October and November 2023, an international art exhibition and series of public talks arrives at the Centrespace Gallery in Bristol, aiming to draw public attention to the growing problem of human disappearance.
Organised by the Centre for the Study of Violence at the University of Bath, in collaboration with the UK-based charity Locate International , the exhibition will feature public talks and art installations, led by Mexican abstract painter, Chantal Meza.
Public talks will consider a broad set of issues pertaining to disappearance today and from history, including enforced disappearance, slavery, the Holocaust; as well disappearance brought about as a result of natural disasters.
Prof Brad Evans of the University of Bath’s Centre for the Study of Violence, explained: "Human disappearance is often associated with 20th Century authoritarian regimes in Latin America. Yet in countries still coming to terms with this legacy, from the ongoing disappearance of tens of thousands of persons in Mexico, to the use of the tactic in Syria and Ukraine, ’disappearance’ remains a pressing issue today."
In Mexico since 2006, the number of enforced disappearances in the country reported by Human Rights Watch are over 100,000. During the same period, there has been the discovery of more than 4,000 clandestine graves spread across the country.
In Mexico and across the world, journalists and members of the media are regularly victims of disappearance too. This was highlighted last year, with the high-profile disappearance of Guardian journalist Dom Phillips - who, with Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, was killed while travelling into the Amazon on a fact-finding mission.
In the UK too, accounting for missing people also remains a significant challenge. Analysis by Locate International, who are partners in the event series, highlights that 11,000 people have been missing in the UK for more than a year, and nearly 1,000 remain unidentified after death.
Bristol-based Mexican artist, Chantal Meza explained: "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 continued: "Countering this demands a joined-up response that brings together artists with academic communities, policymakers and advocacy groups in engaged public ways. ’The State of Disappearance’ exhibition aims to highlight the ongoing problem of human denial, while seeking to bring attention to the disappeared of history, whose plight shouldn’t be forgotten."
Dave Grimstead, Chief Executive Locate International added: "Through history, communities have come together in response to the devastation of human disappearance. The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo working together with forensic and legal experts and students in Argentina, the community mobilisation of the National Search Brigade in Mexico, through to the present day and the Euromaidan SOS initiative in Ukraine launched by the Centre for Civil Liberties. Their examples inspire and show what can be achieved when communities work together in the search for the disappeared and the pursuit of justice."
Locate International is dedicated to helping families of unsolved missing person cases find their loved ones. The exhibition is part of the ’State of Disappearance’ The State of Disappearance Art Exhibition is supported by Arts Council England National Lottery; the Centre for the Study of Violence, University of Bath; ESRC Festival of Social Sciences; the Global Insecurities Centre, University of Bristol; the Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath; the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame; and Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. It is also partnered by Bristol Ideas; Locate International; Trebuchet Art Magazine; and The Philosopher.
(All will take place in Centrespace Gallery , Bristol)
28th Oct: Blackness, Knowledge, Stories & the Disappeared A public talk by Dr. Olivia Umurerwa Rutazibwa who is Assistant Professor at London School of Economics, United Kingdom. 16:00hrs - 18:00hrs
31st Oct: Terrorism, Victims and Disappearance A public conversation with Richard English who is Director of the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. 18:00hrs - 20:00hrs
1st Nov: Is there Justice for the Disappeared? A public panel with Professor Tim Edmunds (Director of the Global Insecurities Centre, University of Bristol); Dr Roddy Brett (University of Bristol); Professor Josefina Echavarria Alvarez (Director Peace Accords Matrix, Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame); Dr. Andrea Purdekova (University of Bath) & Dr. Lina Malagon (University of Wales).18:00hrs - 20:00hrs
2nd Nov: Engaging with Los Desaparecidos and their loved ones in Mexico A public talk by Dr. Arely Cruz-Santiago who is a research fellow based in Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology Department at the University of Exeter, UK. 18:00hrs - 20:00hrs
3rd Nov: Genocidal disappearance/Disappearing genocide: Holocaust histories, geographies and memories A public talk by Tim Cole who is Professor of Social History at the University of Bristol. 18:00hrs - 20:00hrs
4th Nov: Forensic Uncertainty and Ambiguous Loss A public talk by Lucy Easthope who is Professor in Practice of Risk and Hazard at the University of Durham and Honorary Professor in Mass Fatalities and Pandemics at the Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath. 16:00hrs - 18:00hrs
6th Nov: Section 28 and me - A discursive Salon A public event hosted by Tom Marshman who is an artist based in Bristol with 25 years of experience. He has produced projects, across many mediums, including - museum audio-tours, theatre & cabaret. An overarching theme of his work is that of the outsider & their story, particularly regarding the LGBTQ+ experience, stories that been omitted through archival silence. 18:00hrs - 20:00hrs
8th Nov: Escape from Disappearance A public panel hosted by Universities of Sanctuary featuring Timo Kivimäki who is Professor of International Relations at the University of Bath & Habib Wardak Sanctuary Scholar at the University of Bath and a civil society activist in his home country - Afghanistan and a refugee in the United Kingdom. 18:00hrs - 20:00hrs