Last February Daniel Hernandez was in town for an exhibit of his photographs, which were inspired by the 36-year civil war in his native Guatemala. A former photojournalist for Reuters and the Associated Press, Hernandez had volunteered to help identify the remains of thousands being exhumed from unmarked mass graves. During the excavations, he decided to incorporate human bones into his pictures--once they were cleaned and tagged with serial numbers. He enlarged two scapulae, which resembled a pair of angel wings, and placed them behind three male figures holding their hands over their mouth, ears, or eyes. The photos were meant to symbolize the imposed silence of the Guatemalan people. The work was featured in these pages on February 27.
The photos ended up catching the attention of the Catholic archbishop's office in Guatemala. This spring it commissioned Hernandez to make a fourth angel, with its mouth open--to symbolize speaking the truth. The new photo is featured on the cover of a report by the office's Project for the Recovery of the Historic Memory. The report recounts 37,000 human rights abuses, documents the testimony of more than 6,000 people, and assigns the majority of violations to the Guatemalan army. On April 24 the report, called "Guatemala: Never Again," was unveiled in the cathedral of Guatemala City by Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi. Hernandez was on hand. Forty-eight hours later Gerardi was murdered in his home by an unknown assailant. The bishop's skull had been smashed with a block of cement.
Two days later thousands silently took to the streets in a protest march. Hernandez photographed the event and "was impressed and profoundly moved" when he saw many of the marchers carrying placards adorned with his angel images. "I felt satisfaction on one side because the message of truth I sent with the photos was received by the people. But on the other side, I felt deep sorrow for the bishop's death."
Hernandez's images have since appeared on television, in newspapers, and on a Web site dedicated to Bishop Gerardi (www.guateconnect.com/odhagua/). But now Hernandez's own safety is in question. He reports receiving threatening phone calls and mysterious knocks on his door late at night. "Daniel is taking a lot of risks," says Aldo Castillo, owner of the River North gallery that represents Hernandez. "We're going backwards 20 years," Hernandez laments. "It seems we'll never succeed in having a better, more tolerant country."
Hernandez's angel photos are still on display at the Aldo Castillo Gallery, 233 W. Huron; call 312-337-2536. --Marcia E. Gawecki
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited art.