By Mariana Llamas-Cendon
MANZANILLO, MEXICO: The city of Manzanillo, the main tourist destination of the Mexican state of Colima, houses a very unusual attraction. Something a visitor or a resident would never expect to see in a beach resort -- The Museum of Perversity: A Historic Look at Human Rights.
Manzanillo is one of the most important commercial ports in Mexico, and is one of the safest cities, if not the safest, in the country. So, the idea of a museum dedicated to torture and capital punishment, in a city that basically has no known record of human rights violations, started out as a game.
"We thought doing something like this would be easy," said Gary Hirsch, director of the Museum of Perversity and an attorney.
Mannequin depiction of torture.
(Photo Source: The Museum of Perversity)
It took about two years to reproduce and recreate the torture instruments that were going to be exhibited. Artisans from the states of Colima and Jalisco participated in the process. The iron and forged iron artifacts were created by artisans from Sayula, Tonala and Tlaquepaque, in the state of Jalisco.
"The instruments by themselves were not attractive, so therefore we had the idea of creating characters to represent them," said Hirsch.
About 63 mannequins were made of fiberglass by a local artist. Due to the small size of the museum, only a small number of mannequins are in use. The same with about 10 paintings representing the topic of torture made by a group of artists and which can be seen decorating the museum lobby's walls.
Once the museum's concept started taking shape, an anthropologist, a historian, a museographer, and a lighting technician were hired by Hirsch. Later on, a sound specialist joined the team to create special sound effects.
Thereafter, the idea was given the professional look of a museum with a total investment of two million pesos.
The intention of having such a museum was not to turn it into a little House of Horrors, Disneyland style, according to Gary Hirsch, but for it to become an educational tool regarding the history of human rights.
It's a project that has worked and thus far has attracted over 2,500 visitors, with more discovering the small museum every day.
"These (torture and capital punishment) are social anti-values, and we aimed to exhibit the opposite, the human rights," Hirsch said. "We are entertaining people by telling them to come, observe and enjoy pieces of art that are at the same time horrifying and beautiful."
Gary Hirsch, who also owns a law firm, created an educational proposal of about 100 pages long explaining the definition, and evolution of human rights, as well as, the role of public and international organizations in charge of their defense.
"We ended up making a short video, in which we teach people some of the rights they have under the Mexican Constitution," Hirsch said. "Our project is about the rights that every citizen has to confront the power that the authority possesses".
Torture... then, and now?
The torture and capital punishment tools shown are not generic, only those that were -- and still are -- protected by a regime or legislation are displayed at the museum.
"There has always been a legal status that protects it (torture), and we find it despicable," said Hirsch.
Hirsch also pointed out that a visitor's first impression always results in being grateful for the rights we have nowadays, and for the evolution throughout history of a protective system.
"We get as used to it (system of protection) as happened with running water. You get up, turn on the faucet and water comes out. But 200 years ago it wasn't like that. One had to walk for so many miles to get a bucket full of water," said Hirsch.
Gary Hirsch concedes that though Human Rights legislation is quite advanced, in practice, it is different.
"The international system is continuously pushing all countries to evolve their legal systems, but in reality it cannot be done. For instance, corruption cannot be stopped because authorities are not well paid," said Hirsch.
According to Gary Hirsch, torture is still a pretty current practice in Mexico.
Representation of a female abuse victim.
(Photo source: The Museum of Perversity)
"As lawyers, nowadays, we find not only torture but prosecutorial violations that hold someone responsible without any other requirement than their confession, which are obviously gotten through (physical) batteries, threats, moral or psychological coercion," said Hirsch.
Modern torture instruments could be as simple as plastic bags or psychological terror.
"Then the suspect is obliged to sign a confession, to self-incriminate," said Hirsch.
Yet, according to Hirsch, the Mexican legal system is changing for the better. Last year, the international community convinced the Mexican government to promote an institutional reform that allows oral proceedings, in which evidence, as it is compiled, be presented in front of a judge.
"The Political Constitution of Mexico has given its states 7 years to change their legislation to allow oral proceedings," said Hirsch.
A step forward to correcting a tortured past.