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Louise Zamparutti

This essay analyses the literature on the foibe to illustrate a political use of human remains. The foibe are the deep karstic pits in Istria and around Trieste where Yugoslavian Communist troops disposed of Italians they executed en masse during World War II. By comparing contemporary literature on the foibe to a selection of archival reports of foibe exhumation processes it will be argued that the foibe literature popular in Italy today serves a political rather than informational purpose. Counterpublic theory will be applied to examine how the recent increase in popular foibe literature brought the identity of the esuli, one of Italy‘s subaltern counterpublics, to the national stage. The paper argues that by employing the narrative structure of the Holocaust, contemporary literature on the foibe attempts to recast Italy as a counterpublic in the wider European public sphere, presenting Italy as an unrecognised victim in World War II.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Marco Aurelio Guimarães, Raffaela Arrabaça Francisco, Sergio Britto Garcia, Martin Evison, Maria Eliana Castro Pinheiro, Iara Xavier Pereira, Diva Santana and Julie Alvina Guss Patrício

Truth commissions are widely recognised tools used in negotiation following political repression. Their work may be underpinned by formal scientific investigation of human remains. This paper presents an analysis of the role of forensic investigations in the transition to democracy following the Brazilian military governments of 1964–85. It considers practices during the dictatorship and in the period following, making reference to analyses of truth commission work in jurisdictions other than Brazil, including those in which the investigation of clandestine burials has taken place. Attempts to conceal the fate of victims during the dictatorship, and the attempts of democratic governments to investigate them are described. Despite various initiatives since the end of the military government, many victims remain unidentified. In Brazil, as elsewhere, forensic investigations are susceptible to political and social influences, leading to a situation in which relatives struggle to obtain meaningful restitution and have little trust in the transitional justice process.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Overriding politics and injustices
Vilho Amukwaya Shigwedha

In October 2011, twenty skulls of the Herero and Nama people were repatriated from Germany to Namibia. So far, fifty-five skulls and two human skeletons have been repatriated to Namibia and preparations for the return of more skulls from Germany were at an advanced stage at the time of writing this article. Nonetheless, the skulls and skeletons that were returned from Germany in the past have been disappointingly laden with complexities and politics, to such an extent that they have not yet been handed over to their respective communities for mourning and burials. In this context, this article seeks to investigate the practice of ‘anonymising’ the presence of human remains in society by exploring the art and politics of the Namibian state’s memory production and sanctioning in enforcing restrictions on the affected communities not to perform, as they wish, their cultural and ritual practices for the remains of their ancestors.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Patricio Galella

During the Spanish Civil War, extrajudicial executions and disappearances of political opponents took place and their corpses were buried in unregistered mass graves. The absence of an official policy by successive democratic governments aimed at the investigation of these cases, the identification and exhumation of mass graves, together with legal obstacles, have prevented the victims families from obtaining reparation, locating and recovering the human remains. This paper argues that this state of affairs is incompatible with international human rights law and Spain should actively engage in the search for the whereabouts and identification of the bodies with all the available resources.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Zahira Araguete-Toribio

This article considers how the reburial and commemoration of the human remains of the Republican defeated during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) is affected by the social, scientific and political context in which the exhumations occur. Focusing on a particular case in the southwestern region of Extremadura, it considers how civil society groups administer reburial acts when a positive identification through DNA typing cannot be attained. In so doing, the article examines how disparate desires and memories come together in collective reburial of partially individuated human remains.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Edward Bacal

I focus on two contemporary art installations in which Teresa Margolles employs water used to wash corpses during autopsies. By running this water through a fog machine or through air conditioners, these works incorporate bodily matter but refuse to depict, identify or locate anybody (or any body) within it. Rather, Margolles creates abstract works in which physical limits – whether of bodies or of art works – dissolve into a state of indeterminacy. With that pervasive distribution of corporeal matter, Margolles charts the dissolution of the social, political and spatial borders that contain death from the public sphere. In discussing these works, I consider Margolles’ practice in relation to the social and aesthetic function of the morgue. Specifically, I consider how Margolles turns the morgue inside out, opening it upon the city in order to explore the inoperative distinctions between spaces of sociality and those of death. In turn, I consider how Margolles places viewers in uneasy proximity to mortality, bodily abjection and violence in order to illustrate the social, political and aesthetic conditions by which bodies become unidentifiable. I ultimately argue that her aesthetic strategies match her ethical aspirations to reconsider relations to death, violence and loss within the social realm.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Jessica Auchter

The after-effects of mass atrocity – bodies and bones – struggle to be defined within memorial projects. This article seeks to examine the politics at play in displaying dead bodies to interrogate the role of materiality in efforts to memorialise and raise awareness about on-going violences. It focusses on the nexus between evidence, dignity, humanity and memory to explore bone display in Rwanda. It then takes up two artistic projects that play on the materiality of human remains after atrocity: the art of Carl Michael von Hausswolff, who took ashes from an urn at the Majdanek concentration camp and used them as the material for his painting, and the One Million Bones Project, an installation that exhibits ceramic bones to raise awareness about global violence. In thinking about the intersections between human biomatter, art and politics, the article seeks to raise questions about both production and consumption: how bones and ashes of the dead are produced, and how they are consumed by viewers when placed on display in a variety of ways.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Jean-Marc Dreyfus

From 1945 until around 1960, ceremonies of a new kind took place throughout Europe to commemorate the Holocaust and the deportation of Jews; ashes would be taken from the site of a concentration camp, an extermination camp, or the site of a massacre and sent back to the deportees country of origin (or to Israel). In these countries, commemorative ceremonies were then organised and these ashes (sometimes containing other human remains) placed within a memorial or reburied in a cemetery. These transfers of ashes have, however, received little attention from historical researchers. This article sets out to describe a certain number of them, all differing considerably from one another, before drawing up a typology of this phenomenon and attempting its analysis. It investigates the symbolic function of ashes in the aftermath of the Second World War and argues that these transfers – as well as having a mimetic relationship to transfers of relics – were also instruments of political legitimisation.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Benoît Pouget

Based on a study of intersecting French archives (those of the Val de Grâce Hospital, the Service Historique de la Défense and the Archives Diplomatiques), and with the support of numerous printed sources, this article focuses on the handling of the bodies of French soldiers who died of cholera during the Crimean War (1854–56). As a continuation of studies done by historians Luc Capdevila and Danièle Voldman, the aim here is to consider how the diseased corpses of these soldiers reveal both the causes and circumstances of their deaths. Beyond the epidemiological context, these dead bodies shed light on the sanitary conditions and suffering resulting from years of military campaigns. To conclude, the article analyses the material traces left by these dead and the way that the Second Empire used them politically, giving the remains of leaders who died on the front lines of the cholera epidemic a triumphant return to the country and a state funeral.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Anne Marie Losonczy

Since the early 1990s, armed actors have invaded territories in the Chocó and Antioquia departments of Colombia, inhabited by Afro-Colombians and Indians whose collective rights in these territories had recently been legally recognised. Based on long-term fieldwork among the Emberá Katío, this article examines social, cosmological and ritual alterations and re-organisation around violent death. Following a national policy of post-conflict reparations, public exhumations and identifications of human remains reveal new local modes of understanding and administration. In particular, suicide, hitherto completely unknown to the Emberá, broke out in a multitude of cases, mostly among the youth. Local discourse attributes this phenomenon to the number of stray corpses resulting from the violence, who are transformed into murderous spirits which shamans can no longer control. The analysis focusses on the unprecedented articulation of a renewed eschatology, the intricate effects of an internal political reorganisation and the simultaneous inroad into their space of new forms of armed insurrectional violence. Thus the article will shed light on the emergence of a new transitional moral economy of death among the Emberá.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal