Castle of Innocence

Joel Jimenez

2019 - 2022

San José, Costa Rica

Castle of Innocence delves into the building of the Children's Museum of Costa Rica - an imaginative museum space dedicated to children's education through interactive and colorful scenarios - and its cultural heritage as the country's former central prison.

By working with archive material from the prison era and different environments and objects from the museum, the project questions the role of power structures in the construction of historical narratives, and the use of photography as a document of truth.

Both the prison and museum are institutions designed to contain physical or symbolic representations of collective identities. In this regard, the project merges both spaces in a nonlinear narrative to confront the imprints of trauma and violence from the building's past as a prison with the illusory atmospheres in the museum's current context.

Because of the secrecy and ominous nature of the prison, there are a lot of gaps and absent information, therefore, in its retelling, many stories carry both factual details and myths, provoking the boundaries between reality and fiction to start to dissolve.

In the same way, the children's museum uses storytelling devices and imagination to educate on different themes including historical events such as the prison's past through replicas of prison cells from various periods.

These parallelisms allow for a reflection on the multiple tensions, reoccurrences, and contradictions that concern the dissemination of knowledge, history, and collective memory, whereas it also provides ground to examine the liminal space between protection and control in our current post-truth era.

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  • n.d. In the early 20th century, minors that were caught stealing in the streets (often called "rats") were sent to the Central Prison. They had to live with the older prisoners, and also work in the duties assigned to them, such as agriculture.

  • Reproduction of a prison cell with an original mural painted by inmates recovered from the walls of the former prison.

  • Inoperative vintage solar system interactive installation.

  • A vintage book (titled "When They Bury You, I Will Step on Your Grave") placed on the stained bed of a prison cell reproduction.

  • Authentic stamp table used by pre-colonial indigenous cultures from Costa Rica located in the Indigenous heritage section of the Children's Museum.

  • n.d. Public officials oversee the building model of the prison transformation into the Children's Museum.

  • Submarine periscope replica showing an animation of the Children's Museum of Costa Rica on an island.

  • Large scale model of a human's mouth inside.

  • Reproduction of a serpent venom research laboratory located in the Science education section of the museum.

  • Circa 1974. Inmates and public officials pose for a photograph in a visit made to inspect the living conditions of the prisoners at the Central Penitentiary in San Jose, Costa Rica. The visit received wide media coverage.

  • Reproduction of a prison cell bed allegedly used for sexual encounters.

  • Detail of a fire simulation room located in the Safety education section of the museum.

  • Reproduction of a prison cell at the beginning of the 20th century.

  • LARGE: Circa 1949. Edgar Cardona, Minister of Defence and former soldier, hands the control of the prison over to the police forces as part of the demilitarization process after the abolishment of the military in Costa Rica in 1948.

    CENTER: Circa 1974. President Daniel Oduber interacts with an inmate in a visit made by public officials to inspect the living conditions of the prisoners at the Central Penitentiary in San Jose, Costa Rica. The visit received wide media coverage.

  • Detail of an animal habitat reproduction.

  • Reproduction of an ant farm.

  • Dead fake rat placed on a reproduction of a prison cell.

  • 1979. President Rodrigo Carazo performs a symbolic detonation to signal the closure of the Central Penitentiary.

  • Vintage television replica reproducing news coverage from a severe fire that savaged the Central Penitentiary of Costa Rica in 1979.

  • LARGE: 1990. Children from an upper-class private school at a tree planting activity in the vicinity of the abandoned building of the Central Penitentiary.

    LEFT: 1975. An inmate carries a dead rat across the prison yard; allegedly some prisoners ate these rodents due to the lack of food resources.

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