THE MUSEUM OF MEMORY AND HUMAN RIGHTS: “A Living Museum for Chile’s Memory”

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The Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights [MMHR]) opened in Chile in 2010 and was influenced by the Holocaust memory. The Museum is intended to remember and educate about the human rights abuses of the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990. It is hence both a form of reparation to the victims and a site of education.

As the global “Pinochet effect” following his arrest in London demonstrates, Chile’s struggle to confront its violent past is linked with the broader rise of international human rights in the second half of the twentieth century, which itself is tied to the emergence of memory and coming to terms with the past as a preoccupation for nations.

Since division remains in Chilean society over Pinochet’s rule, the story that the Museum tells is strictly limited in relation to the military dictatorship.To make sense of the past and prevent such violence in the future, the causes and consequences must be explained and understood.

The MMHR is very much a part of what can be seen as a global memory culture though a little limited in its nature. However, through its public, the MMHR seeks to address human rights issues beyond Chile. But the important question remains of whether memory and memorial museums can heal whatever healing potential of memory may exist that often eclipsed by political agendas and expediencies.

In 2014, the National September 11 Memorial Museum opened to the public and made historical framing in itself an essential. Instead of memory complementing the historical narrative, the history in the 9/11 Museum is meant to be made out of individual memories.

Entering the exhibit, the museum experience drastically changes. Photography is allowed in Foundation Hall. As the crush of visitors squeeze their way through a revolving door, they are reminded that no photography is allowed inside the historical exhibit. Instead, apparently, all senses are to be focused on learning the history of 9/11. And while the pavilion, the descent, and Foundation Hall are all characterized by their full scale and massive proportions, suddenly, the Museum feels cramped, claustrophobic, chaotic, and uncomfortable. Thus begins the 9/11 experience. Ultimately, the final room, “Beyond Recovery,” opens with questions about the ongoing effects of 9/11and the continued threat of terrorism. In Memoriam, the walls of the room are lined with photos of the almost three thousand victims of 9/11 and the 1993 World Trade Center attack.

The Museum also has a set of educational and public programs and a sophisticated website intended to reach far beyond the already massive audience of the Museum itself. After the experience of the historical exhibition, it seems that any and all tactics for protecting Americans are critically needed and fully justified. In its minute detail of the destruction and traumatic rendering of the 102 minutes, the Museum’s historical exhibition gives visitors such a forceful emotional experience of 9/11 that they cannot help but come away from the historical exhibition deeply horrified and angry.

While the Museum will find a way to stand up for the values it is meant to promote, the ahistorical narrative created in and by the Museum may help fuel the kinds of dangerous rhetoric that threatens them.


Sodaro, Amy, THE MUSEUM OF MEMORY AND HUMAN RIGHTS: “A Living Museum for Chile’s Memory”

Sodaro, Amy, THE NATIONAL SEPTEMBER 11 MEMORIAL MUSEUM: “To Bear Solemn Witness”

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