Over the past few weeks, Chile has been embroiled in mass protests, with five killed and thousands injured. What started as a revolt against the subway fare in Santiago, the nation’s capital, rapidly expanded, as protestors began focusing on class disparities and the rising cost of living in Chile. It’s estimated that, at one protest on October 25, one million people showed up, demanding the resignation of Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, who has said he would remedy the “abuses” that have taken placing during the uprising and make steps toward a new constitution.
Artists are among those who have been impacted by the protests. To hear about the country’s current political state, ARTnews reached out to artist Cecilia Vicuña, who was born in Santiago and is now based in New York. Vicuña, one of the most famous Chilean artists working today, now has work in the current rehang of the Museum of Modern Art, and has long used her work to explore class issues, political strife, and resistance against oppressive states. (Aside from her visual art, Vicuña has also been a prolific activist and writer.) In her statement, Vicuña says that the protests in Chile could foreshadow events in other countries. “It may be a preview of what awaits people around the world,” she writes, “unless we wake up fast to defend our democratic rights!”
Vicuña’s statement follows below.
What’s happening in Chile (and in Hong Kong, Ecuador, etc.) is truly terrifying, and it may be a preview of what awaits people around the world, unless we wake up fast to defend our democratic rights! The art community will be affected fully by what happens to the whole of society, during and after an uprising of this order.
The beauty of this movement is that it feels as an awakening expressed in joyful and peaceful massive protests emerging in every corner. They respond to the hidden pain under the monstrous inequity of the system (Chile has the biggest disparity between rich and poor in the world). The people have named it “Chile despertó.” (Chile awoke). Yet, the President has declared an unconstitutional “State of exception” that suspends rights and floods the streets with armed soldiers and [is] unleashing a new form of state violence, illegal detentions, and shootings. The number of people dead is growing, and so far there is no accountability. It all comes down to the circulation of information: the media controlled by the private sector only shows vandalism, to spread fear. But the people are posting counter images: multiple video clips on the Internet that open the question: is this vandalism a “set up”? You see what looks like undercover policemen descending from fancy cars, setting banks on fire. You see crowds shouting: “the police are burning the subway stations.” So, this is beyond fake news, it is faking reality, in order to exert control.
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.