The life of a student at the national school of La Plata, Argentina, during the last military dictatorship was usually monitored by the national state. What each student was permitted and had to read was taken into account by the government. It was a matter of interest to certain authorities that the student carried an identification card, wore shoes and a tie matching the school’s exact colour, sang the national anthem well and obeyed a chain of command.
It was also relevant that the history books talked about heroic military deeds, like San Martin liberating half of the continent. What’s more, it had been carefully planned that the history taught would magically end at the beginning of the 20th century, disregarding the last 70 years.
Those adolescents got used to experiencing arbitrary behaviour on the part of the State as ordinary, everyday life. They also got used to deeply fearing the police, hearing bloody tales about the army that seemed to derive from the imagination of a creative writer, seeing uniforms, tanks and military deployment in the streets and hearing gun shots in the night.
Furthermore, they also got used to their favourite TV programmes being interrupted by a member of the Armed Forces shouting out a press release, with the Argentine flag stretched in the background. Finally, they had to get used to being immersed in a war where siblings and acquaintances were dragged into fighting and were forced to fight in freezing conditions.
One of those adolescents was me.
In 1983, democracy returned to Argentina. I was eighteen years old and I recall it was a sunny spring where a collective feeling of freedom was felt; nevertheless, I could not understand what it was about or where it came from, having already grown used to the collective cages which were then normal. Just two months afterwards, I finished secondary school and in 1984, I started university.
I had always painted; I was learning to draw with masters and I was a young artistic promise. From the age of sixteen I worked as an illustrator for many magazines. However, at university, I dived into something more than a professional practice: the collective history of a generation taking up its lead role and the position left vacant by the preceding generation, which were missing or stunned by the military process.
I took part in the students union and in the University Federation and I was fascinated by the debates over the possibility of culture’s democratisation as a political action. Afterwards, I was responsible for communications at the Municipality of my hometown, La Plata, and at other institutions and organizations. At the same time, I also worked for non-state companies.
But as time went by, I developed a feeling that the synthesis of my adult challenges was no longer having my drawings shown, or being an artist in search of something within its inner self, but rather something connected with that adolescent’s stage. Part of my participation and contribution to the whole society was the production of images, imaginary, symbols, signs and the social and political active life of images.
It was there where my intellectual and creative passions were synthesized. The core of this story, of my collective identity, of my bond with all the groups of belonging offered by life, of my ability to influence a little from my position over the political reality were driving me toward the national State.
©Sebastian Guerrini, 2009