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Freud and Latin America exhibition — curator Jamie Ruers interview

The Freud Museum's new exhibition throws up an excellent pub quiz question: Which city has the highest proportion of psychoanalysts in the world?

No it’s not London. No, nor Vienna. This could take some time….it’s Buenos Aires.

The obvious next question is why? Well, the answer is the reason the museum has opened their new Freud and Latin America exhibition.

The show — which opened in January 2024 and runs until July 2024 — explores what led to the father of psychoanalysis seeing his ideas be warmly welcomed in the Argentinian capital, and its neighbouring countries. And it looks at why they remain so enduringly influential on the culture and society of the region even today.

The exhibition is the first time the Freud Museum has explored the phenomenal impact of Sigmund Freud in Latin America. Which is surprising, because while Freudian psychoanalysis is often considered a European practice — begun at his home in Vienna before being adopted in Berlin, Budapest, London and Paris — its impact in Latin America has arguably been the most dramatic.

If you don’t know the Freud Museum, then the new show is a good time to change that. It was the final home of Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud, a pioneering child psychoanalyst.

The Freud family came to England as refugees, having escaped Austria following the Nazi annexation in March 1938. The heart of the house is Sigmund's study and his famous psychoanalytic couch, and it’s been open as a preserved North London museum in leafy Hampstead since 1986.

So to mark the opening of the new exhibition, here I chat to the curator Jamie Ruers to get the inside track on this landmark show.


Hello Jamie. So let’s start with why does Buenos Aires have the highest proportion of psychoanalysts in the world?

It's hard to point to just one reason as to why, but it can be traced back to a wider cultural reception of psychoanalysis that began in the early part of the twentieth-century across the region. This exhibition will begin to highlight some of the key individuals and methods of disseminating psychoanalytic ideas in this part of the world.

What are some of the highlight objects that visitors will see in the new show?

On display will be a wide range of objects including photographs, artworks, magazines, a comic book, personal letters, and books and marginalia — all amounting to over fifty pieces on display. Some of the most striking pieces are photomontages by German-Argentine artist, Grete Stern, who produced these pieces for a women's magazine in Argentina titled Idilio between 1948 - 1951. They were featured in a regular article titled 'Psychoanalysis will help you' where women would write in their dreams which would be analysed by a psychoanalyst, pseudonymously named 'Richard Rest'. We will have four examples of the magazines on display too, so visitors can see how the artworks were used in the periodicals.

Freud's famous therapy couch is covered in multi-coloured fabic with colourful cushions on top
Divan: Free Floating Attention Piece, Santiago Borja (2010)

Another highlight are two prints - both titled 'The Psychoanalyst' (2020) — by contemporary Brazilian poet and woodblock artist, Jose Borges. He is popular in Brazil and is known to be a favourite of Brazilian President Lula. His works stand out from the rest of the show. The exhibition is mostly focused on historical relationships between Freud and Latin America, but Borges' pieces demonstrate how integrated psychoanalysis has become in Brazil that the psychoanalytic session is being represented by traditional Brazilian woodblock printing methods.

How did the idea for the exhibition come about?

It came about in the midst of the pandemic when the Freud Museum was running lots of online events. It gave us an opportunity to meet so many new people from across the world, including colleagues in Latin America. Suddenly, geographical boundaries and time differences were far less of an issue. I met Mariano Ruperthuz (based in Chile), one of the exhibition's lead researchers, in 2020 for an experimental event we did together titled the History of Psychoanalysis in Latin America. It was held in both English and Spanish. 

He later told me about his book written with Mariano Plotkin (based in Argentina) about Freud's correspondence and relationships with admirers throughout the region. I realised how rich and all-encompassing this subject was. There were magazines, artworks, personalised letters, and books with dedications (many of which are in our collection at the Freud Museum London!). From this, an exhibition began to emerge!

And the exhibition also touches on how Freud inspired the 'Brazilian Dr Frasier Crane'. Tell me about that.

It's such an interesting frame to look at Gastão Pereira da Silva because their methods were actually quite different! Frasier Crane asked listeners to call in to the live show with their problems and have instant therapy. By contrast, Pereira da Silva had listeners write in to his Saturday morning radio show —The World of Dreams — with descriptions of their dreams. They would then be performed by actors as radio theatre, then the dreams would be analysed by Pereira da Silva on air.

Furthermore, this was all happening between 1947-1950, which is extraordinarily early for these concepts to be brought to a mainstream audience. The difference between Pereira da Silva and any other radio therapy programmes (in the U.S. for example) was that his agenda was to bring Freudian psychoanalysis to the masses. We'll have an audio clip of one his shows in the exhibition.

What are some of the challenges of putting on an exhibition like this?

There have been practical challenges since the start, such as language barriers. My Spanish is OK, but I find Portuguese difficult. I have many wonderful Brazilian colleagues so fortunately they've been an incredible help throughout the process but it does make things inefficient. Not only that, but a lot of the archive material is in German or even French. Secondly, my research colleagues based in Latin America — Mariano Ruperthuz and Mariano Plotkin — are in different time-zones, even different seasons to us, so our availability to get content to one another has felt disjointed at times.

Ancient drinking vessel in the shape of a human form with a handle on the back
Peruvian vessel figure of a dignitary. Peru, Mochica IIIIV c.350 CE. Credit: ©Freud Museum London

However, our collective enthusiasm has not let any of this get in the way. It's been so inspiring to work with such knowledgeable and delightful academics that share such a passion for Freud. They both have decades and decades of experience publishing, teaching, lecturing on Freud's impact in the region. I saw my role as selecting the best narrative to deliver this message to our audience, whom I know like the back of my hand. 

The final challenge was the type of content we wanted to use, specifically the magazines and audio recordings from the 1940s. Sourcing this material has not been easy. Once we found magazines collectors, there was the additional obstacle of transportation as they were all based in Argentina or Brazil. Due to the fragility of the material and the cost for safe transport, we decided to accept high-resolution images and produce good quality facsimiles in-house. While my priority is to showcase this amazing ephemera, it didn't feel right to risk the objects in transit. 

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You're also coming to the end of a long stint as Events Manager at the Freud Museum. What did that role involve?

I've worked at the Freud Museum for 10 years. I started as a volunteer and was lucky enough to work in most of the departments, until 2017 when I began programming events. The Freud Museum was well-known for its events before I arrived, from hosting Edward Said's famous lecture Freud and the Non-European in 2001 to offering a regular stage for major figures like Cornelia Parker, Adam Phillips, Julia Kristeva and Slavoj Zizek.

What I loved most about programming events her was how Freudian theory could be applied to so many things: art, film, literature, politics, society more widely, as well as the clinical practice of psychoanalysis. Often, I was tasked to build programmes that complemented the temporary exhibitions, but this was always supported by a general programme showcasing the latest research in psychoanalysis or discussions about contemporary issues.

The brick facade of the Freud Museum with the garden in the foreground
© Freud Museum London. Photo by K. Urbaniak

There's a limit, however, working within a historic house, as the capacity isn't big. Therefore, the pandemic really opened doors for us to be reaching people who couldn't get to a residential street in Hampstead very easily. Recordings of events for those who can't attend, livestreamed courses from the Museum, and a greater quantity of events more generally was possible in the digital sphere in ways that they weren't/aren't in the physical building.Some of my highlights have been a David Lynch conference Freud/Lynch: Behind the Curtain in 2018 which became a book.

This was followed by the 'Twin Peaks Day book launch' in February 2023 where we transformed the house into different sites from Twin Peaks, with a quiz trail, food, drink, and a series of short talks throughout the evening. It was such a joyous event! This summer, we hosted five film nights in the tranquil garden of Freud's home, showing mostly horror films, preceded by a lecture. The lectures were given by the wonderful Mary Wild who introduced psychoanalytic film interpretations before the screenings began. It was really wholesome series and it brought in the largest proportion of new audiences that we'd seen in long time. These were my final events for the Freud Museum, as I will now be leaving my post and moving to the Foundling Museum to work on events there.

Finally, what other subjects in Freud's life and influence do you think warrant exploring in an exhibition?

That's an amazing question. I think there are some really key centenary celebrations coming up, such as Civilisation and its Discontents (1929) which really feels like it resonates with the current world that we live in. I also think that Freudian approaches to ecology and climate change would be an amazing subject for an interdisciplinary exhibition. Particularly as 'climate anxiety' has become a common term, it would lend itself to some fascinating viewpoints.

Finally, I think there are huge swathes of Freud's library that is massively under-explored. It's not so easy to put all these books out at once, but since I've been working with so many books over the past couple of years, I realise how much of his own personality they hold. For example, with the little pencil markings, the dedications from his followers, the marginalia, but also the variety of books he chose to bring with him as refugee, from John Milton to Nietzsche to Stefan Zweig, Freud has such a rich library, I hope that more can be discovered in the years to come.

Freud and Latin America runs at the Freud Museum in London until 14 July 2024.

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