Keynote lecture at the Seminar ‘Comparative Memories of Conflict’, University of Liverpool, 24 April 2018.
This paper explores the use of the face as a mnemonic device in activism against the disappearance of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. In many of these memory initiatives that take place in the digital environment, the face occupies a central role: “Ilustradores por Ayotzinapa”, “Level of Confidence” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “Hermano” by Gabriela Esparza Robles, “43 Papalotes” by Francisco Toledo, “Ayotzinapa: Visual Action” by Marcelo Brodsky, are just few examples of this trend. The paper aims to examine this memory device following two lines of inquiry: on the one hand, the predominance of the face can be regarded as a continuation of the use of photographs popularized in the 70s to return the individuality to the disappeared, contesting the State seeking to erase any trace of the citizen. On the other hand, in many of these initiatives the face is proposed, in line with the classical portrait, as a place of encounter of two subjectivities: the subject who looks and the subject who is looked at. What happens through/in that encounter? To what extent is identity called into question and reconfigured as it looks into the mirror of the disappeared ‘other’? This encounter between two subjectivities resonates strongly against the cultural phenomenon of the selfie, in which the auto-portrait is marked by the absence of the other who looks, replaced by the digital technology. These initiatives contest the phenomenon of disappearance of the students by promoting memory as (de)facement at the intersection of political violence and digital technologies of the self.