The complex challenge of appropriately memorializing an unpleasant chapter of a country’s history and the relationship between politics and aesthetics is the focus of an upcoming Lawrence University Main Hall Forum.

Nancy Gates Madsen, lecturer in Spanish at Lawrence, presents “The Art of Truth-Telling: Memorials to the Disappeared in Buenos Aires,” Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 4:30 p.m. in Main Hall, Room 201. The event is free and open to the public.

Based on two essays Gates Madsen wrote for the 2005 book “The Art of Truth-Telling About Authoritarian Rule,” the presentation will explore the “politics of memory” in Argentina in the wake of the state-inflicted terror during the country’s “dirty war” from 1976-83 in which thousands of citizens simply vanished.

Kidnapped from their homes and workplaces, people were taken to clandestine detention centers, tortured, killed and buried in unmarked graves. Despite demands by victims’ families and human rights groups that the government account for the thousands of “desaparecidos,” their fate still remains largely unknown.

Through a comparison of the officially sanctioned Memory Park in Buenos Aires with a more spontaneous memorial that arose at the ruins of The Athletic Club, a former underground detention center in the capital city, Gates Madsen will address questions such as what constitutes an appropriate memorial to a past horror, if memorials to brutality force people to remember events or enable them to forget them and whether, in a climate of impunity, memorials can serve as a substitute for justice.

A specialist in contemporary Latin American literature and culture, Gates Madsen joined the Lawrence faculty in 2005. She earned her Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.