During my studies at King’s College London this year, I had the opportunity to take a class on Latin American history, which is where I first learned about this project, “Thinking Inside the Box”. It consisted of setting up an exhibition based on a collection of archives of Latin American Pamphlets from Senate House Library, a project entirely organized and led by us, the students. The project’s aim drew my attention as they included exploring this collection of pamphlets and highlighting their historical value by analyzing them through a new perspective to create innovative connections with the present time.
The project has an additional personal connection for me as I am half-Colombian, and therefore am particularly interested in bringing into the light these incredibly valuable and interesting political posters from Latin American countries. I have always wanted to feel more connected and involved with my Latina heritage, and this project gave me the perfect opportunity to do so while also combining it with my passion for human rights and art.
Before starting the investigation and research process, I wasn’t expecting there to be a large availability of posters and pamphlets we could use, but the exact opposite happened. There were more and more boxes filled with magazines, newspapers, posters, and reports from an impressive number of countries, all dealing with a wide variety of topics. The topic that stood out the most was that of human rights, with calls for attention for the abuses occurring in each country. As I looked at the images, I had more and more questions, and the importance of analyzing images and art through the eyes of everyday people became increasingly apparent to me. I was also surprised by the number of documents with international origins, such as Amnesty International, the Red Cross, or even publications from European countries like France, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The international dimension of the pamphlets and the themes they deal with highlight the importance of exhibiting this collection in London, a global, international city with multitudes of nationalities, ethnicities, and religions.
The archive visit and the experience of looking into the boxes was exciting; I wanted to stop and read everything that passed by in front of me. I could have chosen any of the countries available at the archive and spent hours reading and looking at the thought-provoking documents, however, my personal interest led me to focus on Colombia. As the project was centered around posters and their visual message, it required me to choose something with an image, illustration, or photograph that had the potential for an engaging analysis. Considering this, I began by paying attention to how the colors, images, and symbols within the documents were used to transmit a message. Once an image was chosen, the research process on its political context began alongside research on the theoretical process of analyzing images, which imparted me with new knowledge.
I chose an image that was inside a pamphlet titled “El Objector” (The Objector), which initially drew my attention because the entire pamphlet was published in green: the text, images, even the pages had a slight green tint to them. The content of the pamphlet also intrigued me as it wasn’t a topic I had heard of often, that of conscientious objectors. That is a group of people who protested the fact that the Colombian government didn’t respect their right to not complete military service due to reasons of conscience. I continued researching the Colombian constitution and governmental decrees that were related to compulsory military service as I looked into the conscientious objectors as a group. During this process, I was particularly interested in the international connections I found, including the presence of multiple groups of conscientious objectors across the world. Not only that but as I looked into the meaning of the symbols and color in the image of the pamphlet, it became increasingly significant to note the use of nature as a direct opposition to militarism in other sources and by other movements.
I am very excited to take part in such an important project that highlights the significance of Latin American history and to work with other students and professors who are as passionate as I am in doing so. I am looking forward to seeing all the posters displayed at the exhibit and reading the original work and contributions my fellow students produced. I hope the exhibit reaches wider international audiences and that it motivates other academics, students, and institutions to start looking into their archives and investigating their importance in history and current socio-political contexts. The project investigates often overlooked historical sources, and I trust it will generate interest and inspire discussions regarding Latin America’s diverse and fascinating legacy.