Since mid October, Chile has been in a state of civil unrest in response to growing inequality throughout the country. Sparked by a public transport fare increase on October 6th, Chilean students in Santiago began protesting and dodging fares, eventually resulting in violent confrontations with local police. The ongoing protests address widespread social and economic inequality, the privatization of social services, and a call for a new constitution to replace the current one which was written during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The current president, Sebastián Piñera, declared that the country was “at war with a powerful and implacable enemy” (the protesters) and installed military force in the streets. As of November 1st, at least 23 people had been killed, over 9,200 arrested, and many more seriously injured by police. In solidarity with the protests, artists and musicians have spoken out, supporting the movement by using art as a form of activism.
The streets speak
Throughout political movements, street art and graffiti have been used to spread messages and serve as tools of resistance. Citizens and artists alike have harnessed the power of public art in Chile, defining the struggle by tagging buzzwords like “evade” and “dignity” onto public walls. Reclaiming this public space with messages of protest has mobilized entire communities in addition to spreading the truth about the human rights violations that are occurring. A powerful example of the street art imagery has been the comparison made between Chile’s current president Piñera and the former dictator Pinochet.
Negro Matapacos: a symbol of resistance
An image often spray painted on buildings is that of Negro Matapacos, a stray dog that first emerged during the 2011 student protests in Chile. He joined in on these demonstrations, being kind to the students and aggressive towards the police. Printed on t-shirts and flyers, the image of Negro Matapacos is now being circulated once again as a symbol of revolution and strength. Illustrator Maldito Perrito created a graphic of the dog dodging the public transport fares.
Support from artistic communities
In addition to the work of individual artists, artistic communities are offering their support and acting as safe spaces of refuge. The independent arts organization Sagrada Mercancía in Santiago launched a crowdfunding campaign to provide housing, medical and legal aid, and is distributing medical supplies in the streets. Due to the protests, the Contemporary Art Fair of Chile has been postponed until 2020, and the director of the fair Elodie Fulton stated her desire for art to “become the meeting space that Chile needs.” Calling for economic and social justice, galleries throughout the country have been closing their doors and mobilizing to support protesters.
Music as activism and the legacy of Victor Jara
Music is playing a large role in the Chilean uprising, notably in the legacy and work of Victor Jara. Jara was a Chilean musician and activist who was killed during the dictatorship of Pinochet and today serves as symbol of hope in the struggle for human rights. To pay hommage to Jara and strengthen the cause, 30 Chilean artists collaborated to cover his famous song, “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz,” translated as “The Right to Live in Peace.” The song is often sung in protest, and during the October 25th march where around one million people gathered in Santiago, a sea of voices claimed Jara’s message as their own.
Other contemporary musicians are creating their own political statements. Franco-Chilean artist Ana Tijoux released a song and video that serve as a visual account of the movement and named the song “Cacerolazo” after the method of protesting that entails making noise by banging on pots with spoons.
Solidarity with Chile around the world
Around the world, people are taking to the streets in solidarity with the protests in Chile. From New York to Montreal, all the way to Chilean communities in New Zealand and Australia, groups are mobilizing to show the Chilean people that they are not alone. At the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, Sweden, artists organized an action in support of the ongoing protests in Chile. Contemporary Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña, who has been living in exile since the 1970s, spoke about the power that art has to spread truth about politics:
“What can art, and the art world, do in Chile and beyond? Spread awareness of the violence that distorts information, language, and images, the “tools” of our trade. The art world can stand for transparency to empower our ability to discern purpose and intent. Otherwise the mad destruction of the land and people’s rights, along with the right to question what is true as it is happening in Chile, will continue to spread like wildfire to all nations.“