A slight young woman in a black dress walks barefoot through the streets of Guatemala City, carrying a white basin filled with human blood. She sets the basin down, steps into it and then out, leaving a trail of bloody footprints from the Constitutional Court building to the old National Palace. The corrupt Constitutional Court had recently allowed the former military dictator, General Ríos Montt, to run for president despite the Constitution’s barring of past presidents who gained power by military coup. A Guatemalan who didn’t know that it was a performance titled Who can erase the traces?–or even who had never heard of performance art–would have had no trouble understanding the symbolism: the ghostly footprints representing the hundreds of thousands of civilians murdered, overwhelmingly by the Army, during the long years of war and after; the persistence of memory in the face of official policies of enforced forgetting and impunity. I’ve read (and have contributed) plenty of words, a surfeit of words, about violence and injustice in Guatemala. That trail of bloody footprints was the most powerful statement I’d encountered in ages.
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