It is painful and often rare for countries to come to terms with their own national trauma. More often than not, people choose to forget, to not document and sweep tragedies aside as if they never happened. For decades in Colombia, this has been the case, foreshadowed in García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad.
However, the Museo Casa de la Memoria is an example of how recent memory work has changed this repeated pattern. Open since 2006, it is one of the earlier examples of government initiatives that have been launched to encourage recognition of the past, and what can be learnt from it, in an attempt to prevent it from happening again.
Similar platforms, such as the Centro de Memoria Histórica, work towards the construction of a national memory in order to contribute to the reparation of the right to truth for victims of Colombia’s armed conflict and their families.
What is most striking about Casa de la Memoria is the way in which it so thoroughly documents Colombia’s armed conflict. Information that has, for so long, not been disclosed is now available to the public.
On entering the museum, visitors are met by a mural dedicated to some of the most recognisable names and faces of those who, in their fight for justice, fell victim to Colombia’s armed conflict. Among them, the doctor and human rights defender Héctor Abad Gómez, who campaigned for social justice, and journalist Jaime Garzón, murdered by right-wing paramilitaries for his work.
An interactive timeline attempts to present a linear depiction of events, allowing visitors to scroll through Colombia’s past and discover how events have marked the country’s history for themselves. However, the truth is that Colombia’s history is far from straightforward and linear. Instead, poignant stories of how marginalised groups such as women, Afro-Colombians, and indigenous communities have been victimised are told through installations using both artwork and music. Heart wrenching video testimonies of those affected by the conflict can also be played at the click of a button on the large touch screens.
The temporary exhibition which is currently on display, ‘Medellín: 70, 80, 90’ focuses on recent decades in the history of Antioquia, from some of Medellín’s most troubled years, all the way through to the glimmers of hope that began to appear towards the end of the 90s. The 70s as a decade of repression and violence, the 80s a time of fear, and 90s, the start of a new era of potential and hope.
Although there is still a long way to go in terms of finding the truth for those affected by Colombia’s armed conflict, and achieving the peace that so many seek, Museo Casa de la Memoria embodies the city’s transformation. Although its contents are harrowing, an enormous amount can be learnt from what’s inside.