Recovering personal histories through shadows and memories: A Caribbean conversation


For years, I have been a fan of Beta-Local, a Puerto Rican art collective that offers seminars, workshops, research opportunities and other types of support for local artists. [See previous posts, such as BETA-LOCAL NOMINATED FOR VISIBLE AWARD and CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: BETA-LOCAL’S “LA PRÁCTICA 2014-15”, among others.] Now, Beta-Local co-director Sofía Gallisá Muriente is in Trinidad, where she recently presented her project “Buscando la Sombra.” She recently came together with Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri at Alice Yard to speak about the intersections between personal histories and archival work in research processes. In “Recovering personal histories through shadows and memories: A Caribbean conversation,” Peter Jordens reports on the exchange of ideas on their respective work:

Puerto Rican artist Sofía Gallisá Muriente and Trinidadian curator Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri recently came together at Alice Yard, an art gallery in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and had an interesting conversation about their respective research projects that seek to recover complex personal/public histories through affective archives. On her blog, Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri writes that dealing with a difficult personal history on your own is very challenging and it was therefore wonderful to be able to connect with another hija/hermana [daughter/sister] who understood.

Sofía Gallisá Muriente’s project, “Buscando la Sombra”, is a long-term effort to rescue the historical and affective memory of Carlos Torres Meléndez, known as “La Sombra” [The Shadow], founder of the Association for Prisoners Rights, or the Ñetas, organised in prisons throughout Puerto Rico and the world. Sofía’s investigation is rooted in the memories of people who knew him, combining their stories and personal archives with documents from formal archives and video works produced during the research process to generate a portrait that incorporates subjectivities, languages and forms. Through public events, exhibitions, publications and conversations, the project serves as resource and reference, while also amplifying the implications of the subject matter and form, from a current perspective.

Nimah’s own project concerns the stories of the wives and children of the men of the Jamaat al Muslimeen who attempted to overthrow the government of Trinidad and Tobago in 1990. Whereas the story of the men has been told and told again, but always through the voices of the men involved (on both sides), the stories of their wives and children have never really been told. They are a voiceless group who do have a story to tell. Nimah explores ways in which that story can be opened and shared. She asks: “How can this side of the story be told in a constructive and reconciliatory manner? What methods and approaches are best suited to probing these difficult topics?”

Nimah’s post includes a 52-minute audio recording of the conversation between Sofía and Nimah and subsequent Q&A. Read and listen here:

For more about Sofía Gallisá Muriente, visit the website of Beta-Local, a Puerto Rican art collective of which she is a co-director:

For more about Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri, listen to her TEDxPortofSpain talk called “Art and letters helped me face a difficult past” at

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