EL PASO — For many, the image of a bicycle is synonymous with childhood memories and one of the simplest forms of transportation. But for Argentine artist Fernando Traverso, the image of a bicycle conveys the painful truth behind the 350 people who disappeared in his hometown of Rosario, Argentina, during the “Dirty War” in the 1970s.
His transformation of an iconic and nostalgic item into an image with a call for political and social justice was the result of diligence and in Traverso’s words, “the need to uncomfortably incorporate it in people’s lives.” During the course of four years, (2001-2005) Traverso aimed to create a reminder that was more than just aesthetically pleasing
The Urban Intervention Project took Traverso out to the streets at all hours of the day to spray paint bicycles onto walls, windows, doors and other spaces where bicycles had been abandoned. Borrowing a friend’s father’s bicycle as the model for the stencil, Traverso said he never looked back. “This was not meant to be poetic, this was meant to represent the disappearance of a person,” Traverso said. “Because when a person is gone, he is not here to speak for him or herself, their essence is gone.”
Traverso’s piece, “In Memory” is composed of 29 banners representing Traverso’s friends who disappeared. His piece along with the work of 13 other artists and one artist collaborative are part of “The Disappeared” exhibition that will be on display at the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center, the Union Gallery and the Centennial Museum at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Using his art as a call for social justice, Traverso has managed to make his work a communal matter by involving people in his project. The bicycles, in both their absence and presence, have managed to leave their haunting presence on the spaces they ceased to frequent. “I held workshops so that students, family members of the victims and others could take part,” he said. “I think it’s important for others to participate because this didn’t just affect me.”
During a recent lecture at the Rubin Center at the University of Texas at El Paso, Traverso told why he felt compelled to take on such an arduous task. “In the beginning, it started off with a bike here and a bike there,” he said. “But after a while, the numbers started to increase and it became evident that these people wouldn’t soon be returning.”
While some of Traverso’s stencils were painted over by city officials, a majority of them still linger on not so vacant spaces. In memory of the bicycles that were painted over, Traverso has hand painted a clever message: “¿Alguien ha visto dónde está la bici que dejé aquí?”
Other events, such as films, workshops and lectures will also be held throughout the summer as part of the exhibition. For a complete list of events and more information, visit: The Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts.