Professor Documents Spain’s ‘Stolen Babies’ Travesty in an Exhibit

June 14, 2022

Aránzazu Borrachero co-curated an exhibit based on her digital archive of families whose children were taken during the Franco regime and the first years of democracy in Spain.

Stolen Babies Exhbition
Isabel Regañas Ordóñez is searching for her first daughter, born at the Social Security Maternity Ward of Zafra, Badajoz, on November 9, 1976. She also suspects that on April 11, 1990, she gave birth to triplets — not twins, as her clinical report states — and one was abducted. Photography by Pedro Lange-Churión. Inkjet digital card print, 2017. Part of “Stolen Motherhoods,” developed and co-curated by Professor Aránzazu Borrachero.

Professor Aránzazu Borrachero, (GC/Queensborough; Digital Humanities/Foreign Languages and Literatures) co-curated, with photographer Pedro Lange-Churión, a multimedia exhibit at the National Museum of Anthropology in Madrid. The show, Duerma en ti, ran from March 16th to June 5th, 2022, and was based on a digital project that focuses on the forced disappearances of children during the Francoist dictatorship and the first years of democracy in Spain. The exhibit title, Duerma en ti, is an adaptation of a verse — “may my flesh sleep in you” — from “La madre triste,” a poem by Gabriela Mistral. 

Between 1939 and 1999, during the Francoist dictatorship and the first years of democracy in Spain, a huge number of minors and newborns were separated from their families for relocation to other families or to religious and state institutions. The exhibit presented the ideological context of the separations through photographs, testimonies, and documents from 20 cases that occurred during the second half of the 20th century. 

Duerma en ti developed from an open-access digital archive that Borrachero and digital humanist developers Alejandro Peña and Francisco Onielfa have been working on since 2012. Mujer y Memoria gathers multimedia projects that address the intersection of gender and fascism in 20th-century Spain. The first project, “Mothers and Daughters of the Spanish Transition to Democracy,” documented through audiovisual recordings and life stories the experiences of women who became adults and mothers during the Francoist dictatorship. The second project, “Stolen Motherhoods,” on which the exhibit was based, collects the testimonies of mothers and other relatives of babies and children that were taken by the Franco regime. 

Stolen Babies Exhbition
Izaskun Poza Tellería gave birth to twins on April 1, 1974, at Our Lady of Aránzazu Hospital in Donostia-San Sebastián. She is searching for one of them. Photography by Pedro Lange-Churión. Inkjet digital card print, 2017. Part of “Stolen Motherhoods,” developed and co-curated by Professor Aránzazu Borrachero.

The exhibit challenged Borrachero and Lange-Churión to narrate stories through portraiture, digital testimonies, and documents, and provide historical contextualization that included both physical objects and video footage. Exhibit visitors remarked on the richness of the dialogue between the victims’ still portraits, which invited contemplation, and their vivid digital testimonies and document descriptions. 

Borrachero has published several articles in the area of feminist literary criticism and two monographs. Volume 1 and Volume 2 of collaborative, multimedia student work from the Digital Memories seminar she conducts in the Graduate Center’s Digital Humanities master’s program has been published on Manifold

Support for Duerma en ti came from the Professional Staff Congress at The City University of New York (PSC/CUNY) and the University of San Francisco, along with grants from many Spanish cultural and political institutions. Duerma en ti was first shown at the Centre del Carmen in Valencia, Spain, from March to June 2019, and will open in Navarra, Spain, on October 18, 2022, sponsored by Navarra’s Instituto de la Memoria.