CURRENT WORK: 1999
"Political Terror in Latin America" is the title and subject of a multiple-medium installation art piece dealing with the issue of human rights abuses and the political oppression of Latin American people by military dictatorships. The installation, created by artist John Rivera-Resto as a 1999 first semester student project presentation for his MFA program at Vermont College, consisted of 2 circular paintings set on top blocks of stone, a black box room (8 ft. high x 6 ft. wide x 8 ft. deep), an audio-track, a sculptural viewing piece, and a mirror with an inscription edged to it.
The installation was set up so that the first thing seen by the viewer was a painting of three figures set on a free-standing rectangular stone. This dark stone is a symbol of a sacrificial altar. On the ground before the stone, as if dripping from the painting, were drops of blood. The three figures on the painting represent an executioner and his two victims - the innocent and the oppressor. One of them, holding a crucifix, is saying his last prayer; the other prisoner simply awaits his fate; the executioner - a soldier - calmly lights a cigarette to kill time. The scene is taking place in the middle of the night; harsh illumination coming from the lamps of a vehicle. While no weapon is visible, the sense of impending doom becomes obvious to the viewer who is forced to be a witness to the scene as if looking through the night-scope of a rifle - hence, the round shape of the paintings.
Next, the viewer would focus on the front of the box which was painted to resemble the front page of the English Edition of a Latin American Newspaper. This front page is 6 ft. wide x 8 ft. high. Printed on this page are articles written in satire designed to engage the interest of the viewer - who now becomes a reader. The articles are inter-connecting stories that relate to the events presented in the installation. What is taking place in the proceeding painting, the identity of the victims and the circumstances that precipitated these actions, will begin to be revealed.
After having read the articles, the viewer walks through the paper into a dark room dimly illuminated by the red glow of a small wall-lamp. The door has always been there but barely visible because the articles of the newspaper have been printed over it. Once this door is closed, the viewer, who now becomes a silent participant (by witnessing the truth behind the story), is isolated in this dark space. Below the red lamp, are instructions telling the viewer to pickup a pair of earphones that are hanging from the wall and to put them on (the box is designed for two participants, two earphones are available). Then the viewer is instructed to look through a peephole and listen.
What the participant sees through the peephole is a three-dimensional image of the three figures from the painting. One of the prisoners (the priest) has been executed, and now the executioner has a gun pointed to back of the head of the other prisoner. The image is static but the lighting of the scene keeps changing colors cued to a testimonial narrative now being played. Three voices, those of the two victims and the wife of one of the victims, tell the story of their ordeal: arrest, imprisonment, torture and execution. Sound effects enhance the narrative.
When the narrative ends (3 minutes of tape), the lights deem to black and then suddenly the flash of a gun shot illuminates the darkness as the final prisoner is executed. Silence. Now the viewer/witness exits the enclosure through a back door to wrestle with his thoughts. But before exiting, he is confronted with a mirror in which the following inscription has been etched:
One final image awaits the viewer after the exit: a painting of the aftermath of the execution. This painting follows the format of the first; a circle over a stone. It completes the narrative of the story. In this final image, the bodies of the victims have been unceremoniously dumped into a ditch. The executioner calmly lights another cigarette, and walks away. But it is in this image that the most disquieting commentary in the art piece is made: one of the victims wears a T-shirt with a 'Mickey Mouse' now clearly visible on his back. This cartoon character is a symbol of America's active role in this tragedy. And in the context of these images, it poignantly points an accusatory finger at the United States policy of siding (and militarily assisting) with those governments in Latin America who are the enemy of the people.
To supplement this installation, printed information was provided explaining: What are human rights, Why should we care about human rights; and, three things you can do to help stop human rights abuses. Following its initial exhibition in Montpelier, Vermont, John Rivera-Resto exhibited this installation on March of 2000 at the Power House Art Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio.