Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Always with usDesaparecidos

Irene Martinez, MD
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Desaparecidos1 is a series of drawings and photographs depicting part of my own and other people’s experiences during the Argentine military dictatorship in the nineteen-seventies. I found that words were not enough to express what my family, the Argentinean people, and I experienced during the dictatorship. After being kidnapped and tortured, we were not only removed from society, but our humanity and identity were taken from us, as was our sight. We were blindfolded, thus deprived of any knowledge and contact with reality. After months of being “disappeared” and held “incommunicado,” we were transferred to a maximum security prison, where we were able to see our relatives, but physical contact was not allowed.

After years of separation, the first time I saw my father, I did not recognize him because he had aged so much. He sat down in the visiting room and collapsed in tears, his embrace suspended by the glass. A week later he suffered a heart attack.

People were kidnapped from their houses, work, and public spaces and never seen again. Hundreds of families are still searching for their loved ones. “Where are they? How are they?” are questions they ask themselves every day. The impact of this experience on the physical, emotional, and psychological health of the survivors and their communities continues to unfold. I can only hope that the public trials for crimes against humanity being held all over Argentina bring truth, justice, and healing.

After my release, I struggled with how to share this experience. These drawings, paintings, and photographs reenact the complex history of repression and terror. Creating this body of work has allowed me to visually narrate the political events we went through and thus surmount this history both personally and publicly.

All digital photographs were taken on sets designed by Irene Martinez. Visitations was photographed on a set built in Chicago. Untitled and the street photos were photographed on sets created in Cordoba, Argentina. Actors, members of the community, and family served as models. All work is copyrighted by Irene Martinez, MD.

Click on any image to see in full.


  1. Those who have disappeared, secretly imprisoned or killed as part of a government’s program of political suppression.

IRENE MARTINEZ, MD is a physician, wellness activist, visual artist and writer. She has been based for nearly 25 years at John Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, where she leads a monthly lecture on Human Rights and Medicine to internal medicine residents. She received her degree in medicine from Cordoba National University in Argentina. Dr. Martinez, a desaparecida and a political prisoner during the “dirty war,” was adopted by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience. Since the early 1980s, Dr Martinez has been an advocate for torture survivors and is a founding member of the Marjorie Kovler Center. In 2006, she received The Jeanne and Joseph Sullivan Leadership in Human Rights award from the Heartland Alliance. She has recently completed a Medical Ethics Fellowship at the University of Chicago. Dr. Martinez’ work underscores the reality that expression is therapeutic and that the arts are the soul of expression.

Highlighted in Frontispiece Volume 4, Issue 2 – Spring 2012

Spring 2012



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