Nibia Sabalsagaray (1949 – 1974) was a Uruguayan literature teacher and social activist, tortured and killed in captivity at the beginning of the last military dictatorship (1973- 1985) in Uruguay.

In 1974, the Military Justice categorized this crime as a suicide by hanging.

Despite Uruguayan Law 15.848 (Ley de Caducidad) granting amnesty to military responsible for crimes committed during the dictatorship, in September 2004, Sabalsagaray’s sister–Stella–presented to the Uruguayan Justice a letter requesting the change from to suicide to murder, and the identification and punishment of those responsible.

After a complex and long judicial process, in 2010, Miguel Ángel Dalmao y José Chialanza were sentenced to 28 years of prison.

The piece

Nibia is an interactive installation that questions the relationship between society and its recent past, through the re-contextualization of a particular image.

The work consists of a room, dark, with black walls, with only one entrance, blinded by double black curtains.

Hanging towards the end of the room, there is a projection of Sabalsagaray (an image very well known in Uruguay), in sepia tonalities. Two meters from the projection, there is a wooden stool with a standard lighter on top of it.

If the interactor decides to take the lighter and light it, the picture in the area corresponding to the position of the lighter burns and disappears. It is, however, impossible to burn it completely: a short time after a zone is burnt, the image is reconstructed.

Technical details

The detection and tracking of the flame is done with an infrared camera (either a Wii Remote controller or a PS Eye camera), with a simple blob detection algorithm.

The burning simulation is done by manipulating the pixel values (using an algorithm similar to the burning effect usually present on image manipulation software), following an upward motion constructed by randomly mixing several paths recorded using a drawing tablet.

All the software was programmed with openframeworks.

Exhibition history

Museum Subte Municipal, September 2010. Montevideo, Uruguay.

Museum of the Memory (Museo de la Memoria), December 2011. Montevideo, Uruguay.