A collaborative team co-led by Western researcher Amanda Grzyb and Belgium-based architects Evelia Macal and Harold Fallon from KU Leuven, has capped off four years of work by finalizing the last of the installation components of a memorial at the site of the Sumpul massacre.
The memorial site is part of a multi-faceted collaborative project called Surviving Memory in Postwar El Salvador that aims to preserve the memories and important history of the Salvadoran Civil War.
“This is really about researchers working in solidarity with survivors and accompanying them in a process that started decades ago,” said Grzyb, a professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, who is leading the project. “It is important to be able to bring our skills and technical knowledge and work in collaboration with the massacre survivors in order to support their commemoration process and their healing process.”
The research is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Western, KU Leuven, and the University of El Salvador.
In April, the team installed the final pieces for two of the three installations at the Sumpul Massacre Memorial Park at Las Aradas, built on the site of the 1980 massacre in which 600 civilians were killed by the Salvadoran Armed Forces and the paramilitary group, ORDEN. It is considered one of the most significant massacres during the Salvadorian Civil War.
*All photos in this gallery were taken by Shawn Robertson in April 2022
In May, a second team from Western traveled to El Salvador to participate in community commemoration activities. Undergraduate student Jessica Larios was part of the group that attended the commemoration. She and the team hiked more than two hours through the dense jungle to the memorial site. She says the work was impactful for her both from an academic and personal perspective.
“Both of my parents are Salvadoran, and when my father was a teenager he fought in the war the project is trying to document. He fought on the side opposing the government, on the side this project is trying to give a voice to,” she said. “It was a way for me to get in touch with my own history, but as a psychology student it was also a way to help a community process the trauma and focus on how art and music helps people process.”
The central memorial installation at the Sumpul River site includes more than 600 ceramic plaques that bear the names of those who were killed, along with stones from the river. Each of the plaques is unique and the stones don’t follow any distinct pattern. The differences in the installation of the river stones are reflective of the people who participated in the project – professors from Western, architects from Belgium, art students from El Salvador, community members, massacre survivors, construction workers and Salvadoran artists.
“You notice right away that there is not a uniform pattern in the rocks,” said Adriana Alas Lopez, a Western postdoctoral scholar who is working on the project. “And this is amazing because the plaques have the energy of many different people from many locations and backgrounds and really reflects the collaborative nature of this project.”
Diversity and collaboration are part of what makes this project so powerful.
“The collaborative nature of this project has been really important,” said Grzyb. “This historical memory work with Salvadoran communities has bolstered efforts for intergenerational education and commemoration and amplified the voices of survivors.”
The completion of the memorial installation launched the team into a new seven-year SSHRC-funded partnership project that will include five other memorials at other massacre sites throughout the country. The team traveled to El Salvador again in early September to meet with survivors and community members to begin planning for those projects.
Other Western University team members who participated in fieldwork with Grzyb, Larios, Fallon, Macal Guerra, and Alas this spring include Felipe Quintanilla (Assistant Professor, Hispanic Studies), David Heap (Associate Professor, French), Giada Ferrucci (Ph.D. Candidate, Media Studies), Talia Mendez Mahecha (Ph.D. Student, Media Studies), and Marithza Andagoya (Project Coordinator). They were also joined by Eusebio García (Salvadoran Canadian Association of Toronto), Reynaldo Hernández (Collaborator), Shawn Robertson (Collaborator), José García (FutureWatch), Bernie Hammond (King’s University), Morgan Poteet (Mount Allison University), Juan Carlos Jímenez (University of Toronto), Vladimir Pacheco Cueva (Aarhus University), Chiara Bresciani (Aarhus University), Thomas Montulet (AgwA architects), Johannes Berry (KU Leuven), Lourdes Calero (University of El Salvador), Miguel Mira Mira (University of El Salvador), Roberto Urbina (independent architect), Felipe Tobar (Collaborator), and Fran Mejia (Local Project Coordinator).
For more information, see the project website: www.elsalvadormemory.org.