Since October 18th 2019, Chile has experienced a social and political crisis of unmatched intensity since the dictatorship under Pinochet. Protests for social justice sprung up all over the country, gathering millions of people for the largest demonstrations in Chile’s history and uniting a wide variety of communities in a common struggle for urgently needed changes. Over the course of six months, people took to the streets for cacerolazos, banging pots and pans with wooden spoons, marching, singing, and dancing. Street walls became the people's bulletin boards where they used humor and talent to present their demands: economic and social equality, improved educational, medical, and social services, proper retirement and care for the elderly, respect for children’s, women’s, and human rights, respect for native cultures, environmental justice, rights for water… issues that had been brushed off during the thirty years of so-called “democratic transition”. These problems have only recently begun to be addressed by congressional representatives, resulting in changes such as revisions to the 1980 Constitution of Chile, which was authored to expand and legitimize dictatorial power.
Walls are nonetheless whitened, and then written over again, and whitened and written on again. They have become a stubborn, reincarnating palimpsest that is also a symptom of a polarized society. Demonstrations have been repressed and confronted with the most disproportionate police brutality. Meanwhile, President Piñera’s administration has remained deaf to the people’s demands, even denying the ongoing health and humanitarian crisis, rejecting Human Rights Reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN that expressed concern for the systematic and generalized abuse of the police forces, that have not only illegally detained, tortured, sexually abused and injured hundreds of persons, but also have caused an ophthalmological crisis with no precedents in human history, causing severe eye trauma to over 450 civilians with anti-riot guns.
Chile Woke emerges from this context, as a curatorial platform created with the purpose to show, on one hand, what the media are not showing, by recognizing the valuable work of photographers that risk their physical integrity by participating in these events and documenting what is going on – from the beauty of a society coming together for common good, to the repression and violence that must be denounced. The photos here presented are a small sample of the varied expressions that have taken form during this revolt, as well as portraying a variety of individuals that embody this collective struggle.
On the other hand, understanding the importance of all art forms, we observe they become particularly relevant in situations of social turmoil – especially when combined with a generalized disbelief in political parties and representatives. Given its means of design, reproduction and circulation, and having abandoned its advertising value and assuming a political rolle, posters tell stories, represent the hopes, dreams and failures of a society . Art has the power to synthesize collective emotions, to call upon the public and engage in a reflexive exchange. What can be more charged of emotion and complex in levels of affection than life in a society that is questioning its political structures? Graphic artists are managing to process and give a visible form to the multiple dimensions that have been affected by this collective awakening, a work that we feel must be taken into account, valued and shared as a means of reimagining society.
Finally, our intention is to promote dialogue, to motivate further conversations on the deep implications of what it means to live together, not just in a country, but in a world that is aching for changes, where old political models seem to have reached their obsolescence, and we no longer know what to think or do about it. We are observing the emergence of what seemed to be a long-lost community, of the people that have come together imagining new ways of organization and understanding, while marching the streets or sitting down in cabildos (assemblies) for long conversations. Being mindful of our social and natural environment, listening to each other, freely expressing dissent, sharing and respecting diverse ways of learning, loving and living: that is how we want to design the future.
While protests spread through different parts of the country against the curfew imposed by Piñera, episodes of violence against property took place, pharmacies and supermarkets were looted regardless of the massive police and military deployment. The government, avoiding to address the people’s demands, assumed a contradictory discourse, as illustrated in the different tone of satirical caricature depicted in the works of Galem Martinez (El Pizzas) and Victor Ledezma (This is War). On one hand, President Piñera was known to be having pizza in one of Santiago’s richest neighborhoods while protests were taking place on October 18th, even though he said later that by then he already had received intelligence reports about the fires that eventually took place across the metro network. Later, he addressed the nation and declared being at “war against a powerful enemy”, criminalizing the social movement, trying to refocus attention on isolated incidents of violence and the cost of the damage of property, without mentioning any of the victims of police brutality observed by human rights organizations.
Claudia Arriagada’s Against Looting brings up the uncomfortable matters that Piñera’s administration is not willing to say about looting: how corporations are unwilling to provide fair salaries to workers; the depredation of natural resources by mining and forestry industries; the injustice of the current pension system; the overall abuse of an unfair economical and political structure. At the same time, it presents the main figures of the ongoing social movement: the woman, standing for the feminist movement that has been consolidating over the past years; the student, standing for the high school student organizations that made a call to boycott the Ministry’s metro fare rise and jump the turnstiles, igniting the October demonstrations; and the child, representing the abandoned youth, the children that end up under the custody of SENAME, the National Minors Service, an institution that has been discovered in many cases to systematically abuse the children they should protect, who that mostly end up growing precariously by themselves in the streets and stuck in a cycle of poverty and marginalization.
Stressing the fact that the protests were not a matter of war, nor about 30 pesos, but 30 years of a “transition” that never really transcended the legal and political restrains of the dictatorship, Not at War by Ignacio Perez masters the use of digital collage in order to represent state sanctioned violence and corruption during democracy in the shape of the rifle, contrasting with the people’s demands for “Dignity, Justice, Equality” written on the background.
For almost 6 months, every day was a day to protest, and so in the afternoons, as people started to leave their workplaces, they would congregate in Plaza Dignidad in Santiago, or Avenida Diaguitas in La Serena (a seen in I don’t Forgive you), and so on in each main street and square across the country, banging their pots and pans, chanting songs. The word in the street said Chile had awakened. The wuñulfe - the Mapuche morning star, represented in We call you, Revolution - was up and the people could not go back to how things were, in an urgent need to see changes in a number of issues. From the youth, protesting for education, climate change and environmental justice (Protesting for my future); to the elder, protesting for the unfair pension system and difficult access to healthcare (Until life is worth living); and the revindication of native peoples as the Mapuche to be recognized as sovereign First Nations. All matters historically unattended call for immediate action. Given the use of tear gas by Carabineros to disperse crowds in demonstrations, people prepared and wore masks, all sorts of masks, in a humorous manner besides the rebellious spirit. When an audio message of the first lady, Cecilia Morel, was filtered and went viral, thousands heard her comparing the social movement to an alien invasion and telling her friends that the time had come to “share privileges” - then even aliens showed up at the demonstrations (No Fear).
All the bold humor can not disguise the violence that has taken place across Chile’s streets. Unarmed protesters banging pots have once and again met an intolerant and abusive authority, from the President to law enforcement, Carabineros de Chile. The use of tear gas became a daily habit, invading homes in downtown Santiago and around the main gathering points in towns. Massive detentions using illegal procedures, disproportionate use of violence, sexual abuse and rising numbers of injured protesters are among the crimes reported by the National Institute of Human Rights. Reports by Human Rights’ Watch, Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights’ Commission visited Chile during the first weeks, observing and denouncing systematic and generalized abuse of police forces. At a point it was noticed that this awakening was being punished with both physical and symbolic violence: an ophthalmological crisis was reported as over 450 persons suffered severe eye trauma during the first 5 months of protests, caused by Carabineros’ anti-riot guns (They fire at will). The social movement has responded exclaiming We are not afraid; denouncing State terrorism (No + Killer State); articulating a discourse of resistance against injustice, so that we may not go through this again in the future (Never Again).
An unexpected figure gained an iconic status in the struggle against police violence: Negro Matapacos. In english, Black Copkiller, is the black dog that defended students from the police in the protests of 2006, as depicted in Max Salinas re-interpretation of a page of an old literacy manual. Matapacos was what in Chile we would call a kiltro, a stray dog of undetermined race, a canine survivor. The animalization of the social movement in this figure represents to us a people abandoned or else systematically disrespected by its government. Kiltra Struggle by feminist collective Ser y Gráfica, takes this precarious condition of Matapacos to turn it into the precious heart of the revolt.
The way events unfolded, it was impossible not to remember the dictatorship, the violence, fear and suffering endured by the generations that lived through that time of Chile’s history (1973-1989). Younger generations have grown up facing consequences of the dictatorship not only on a social and political level, but also their private lives - from having to live away in exile, without a family member that was killed and disappeared, or marked by the trauma of tortures and harm done to their elders. For generations Chileans have been learning to resist, to stand up once and again and fight for their rights - for a matter of social justice and collective affection, as a debt to those who have given their lives in this struggle. So as the people rise up once again, it has been central to keep the light of memory alive, and honor all victims of humanitarian crimes that we Don’t forgive, don’t forget.
The need for a new constitution had been insistently expressed by social movements since the return to democracy, but never as strongly as since past October. As a matter of fact, the most solid conquest of this movement so far has been the historic agreement that was reached in Congress on November 15th: citizens will decide in a referendum first, if the constitution is to be changed or not and, second, in case the option for change wins, how is to be conformed the commission in charge of conducting this work. It was also agreed that this commission would have to be formed by equal numbers of male and female representatives, in which case Chile could become the first country to have a constitution equally written by both men and women.
Miguel Cabrera’s work is inspired by this possibility of a change so long called for. While one poster offers an homage to those who have raised their voices for this cause, on the other the promise of a new political constitution hangs and shines as neon lights in the wild. We find this an interesting metaphor of the social movement reaching beyond known limits and possibilities.
The referendum was initially going to take place on April 26th 2020, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic it has been rescheduled for October 2020 - the promise still awaits, slowly rising up the horizon like the sun behind the Andes.
Alongside the social and political crisis, the COVID-19 outbreak has magnified the hardship of a preexisting health crisis in Chile. Authorities have gravely mishandled the situation, resulting in the Minister of Health abandoning his charge after being found responsible for manipulating epidemiology figures and lying to the population on the evolution of the pandemic. Although he was swiftly replaced, isolation measures have been too little, too late. In reaction, lockdown is now oppressively enforced as the people of Santiago are required to obtain a permit to leave their homes. The permits are only granted for 'essential purposes' restrict trips to a duration of an hour, and can be granted a maximum of twice a week. This has had disproportionately heavy impact on the medical care and sustenance of vulnerable communities who are the first to suffer public health system shortcomings and who are most economically devastated by lockdown restrictions which hamstring their livelihoods and ability to satisfy basic needs.
The posters and photographs presented here were created by artists in Chile who responded to our open call for works focused on the uprising. This material was produced during the first months of the movement, resulting in a concentrated sample of the ongoing creative, diverse work being done to support the struggle of the Chilean people. The movement has not been spared disruption by the pandemic sweeping the globe but even so people demonstrate from their homes - cacerolazos are still heard in the southern hemisphere during the long nights of lockdown.
This open air exhibition was conceived after all venues offered to us for this year had to cancel their events. We figured that even though museums and galleries are closed, artists are still working and art is happening and can happen in so many various ways, it just needs to reach out and find a setting. Chile Woke is not just about the art, but also seeks to reinforce international solidarity and memory, as well as values we consider fundamental to keep in our minds and close to our hearts: justice, equality, and respect for all. We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to recreate somehow the walls in Santiago in this Amphitheater before its demolition and renovation.
We want to thank all artists and photographers that trusted us with their work, our friends and family for their unconditional support: Moussa Kandalaf, Ivan Bustamante, María Paz Thompson, Lucas Smiraldo, and the Chilean community in Seattle that brought us together and have supported this project from its beginning.
Texts by Rebeca Sánchez Castro
Design by Marcela Soto Ramírez