Chilean Street Art, Valparaiso, and Back to Rochester

Political Street Art and Miscellaneous

After our street art tour in Bogotá with Camilo, I kept my eyes open for street art in other places we visited. Santiago also has a notable street art community and now I kind of wish we had taken a graffiti tour there. The first street art we saw was actually an advertisement for an Amazon Prime program! The yellow owl was across the street from a cafe where we got some lunch. In my blog post on the ESMA Museum of Memory in Buenos Aires, I talked about the meaning of “Presente.” So when I saw the graffiti about Luisa Toledo, I looked her up. The Pinochet regime killed three of her children, and she became involved with liberation struggles against the dictatorship. She also advocated for the Mapuche Indigenous people, who were seeking territorial autonomy. Her family put out the following communique when she died.

The graffiti “RP Global killed the black woman” probably refers to the death of Macarena Valdés, a Mapuche Indigenous woman. The Chilean authorities arrested her for trying to prevent the multinational company, RP Global, from stringing high voltage power cables through her community. The one beside it says “War to the state,” with an anarchist logo beside it. Below, we have poetry. The first, blue against a cream background, reads “Soul trash/We collect your fears/Old loves and bad luck/ Shake it off here.” Not sure of the poet’s last name, but the first is Pippi. The same poet (Pippi Morís?) wrote in white on blue, “Assembly of a whole being/I feel cold, never afraid/My soul is conscious/Vibrating along.

Victor Jara was an internationally famous Chilean folksinger and university professor tortured and killed by Pinochet’s regime. Dragged into an indoor stadium, soldiers smashed his arms and systematically broke his fingers. Then they taunted him to play his guitar. The Spanish under his portrait reads, “With the force of song.” To his right, is a poster showing an indigenous person kicking a soldier, with the phrases, “Soldiers go back to your quarters.” On either side is the quotation, “So that memory does not exist only in September,” recalling the September 11, 1973 coup.

Below that, you’ll see a poster about Indigenous people that has been ripped off the wall. To its right, the poster says, “With death and torture, Democracy is still being built. Sowing terror to defend your interests and continuing to profit from our necessities. To 50 years of the coup. Self-organization,[obscured], and Direct Action. The encircled A and the star represent Anarchists and Communists. I don’t know what the third logo represents. It does not appear to be the flag of Chilean socialists. Because of its proximity to the Indigenous poster, and because of how governments treat Indigenous people in the Americas, I think the two posters may relate to each other. I don’t know what the three-eyed person means in the street art below that, but the words say, “State of Rebellion before the Oppressor State.”

In the last row, we see graffiti dedicated to the struggle of the Mapuche people. “Mapuche” means “people of the land” in their language, and “newen” means “force.” The small posters stuck on the painting of an arch call for justice in the murder of Annibal Villarroel, a working class protestor shot by police lieutenant Joaquin Muñoz Vasquez in 2020. Alex Nuñez was a 39-year-oold repairman who was trying to get home under military curfew. Police chased him and and beat him up. He died later in the hospital from his injuries. Under his image, someone has written, “They fell fighting for [human/civil] rights.” And below that, someone has written, “Arise those who fight (or struggle.”). The writer turned the tail of the q into a cross. On the picture to the right, the graffiti says, “For Communism, for Anarchy, let’s go on the offensive.”

I thought a couple of pieces were so striking I wanted to feature them. First up was the adaptation of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, which was his response to the 1937 bombing of the city of Guernica by fascist Italy and Germany. The artist of this mural used Picasso’s motif to describe the crackdowns on protests against inequality that began in 2019 and continued into 2020, until Covid-19 ended them. One demonstration on October 25, 2019 had more that 1 million people show up.

We stopped in at the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center , which was closed for the day, and saw this mural. I would have loved to have had a Chilean historian or art expert explain it to me. I did a Google Lens search, and someone said this mural is called “Free Africa.”

I saw a mosaic on the side of the building—obviously installed when the center was built—that I initially thought was a picture of the Catholic Church bringing enlightenment to the savages. However, on closer inspection, I see that it’s a depiction of Gabriela Mistral, who herself received little standard education because she grew up in poverty. She advocated for Indigenous, poor, and working-class children to have the same right to education as other Chileans. Below are a couple of other murals from the center. The quotation above and below the frame in the picture to the right means, roughly, “As the streets expand over everything, the countryside shrinks. If the countryside dies, the city doesn’t eat.”

International Women’s Day Street Art

The evening we landed in Santiago, our driver told us he could take us only within three blocks of our rented room because of the International Women’s Day March. Dragging our luggage all that way was not fun, but participants in the March sure left a lot of interesting graffiti and posters behind. The top photo is slang that means, roughly. “Legal Abortion. Never with the police. Always with the whores.” The three unobscured graffiti postings below it read, “No is no,” “How many have to die in the name of false love,” and “Believe your daughter.” The posters give statistics:

  • In Chile, women work double the hours of men each day to take care of children and other dependents
  • At a global level, women work more than 76% of the unremunerated jobs.
  • 1 out of 2 women of working age do not participate in the workforce, while 70% of men in the same position do.
  • Women in Chile receive $21.7 less that men do.
  • Did you know that only 7.5 public monuments are about women?
  • 9 out of 10 women have been harassed on public transport.
  • Did you know that only 5.5% of the almost 100 million streets in Chile are named after women?
  • In Latin America, 49% of women have taken a break of 6 months or more from their work.
  • In Chile, 2 out of 5 women cancel trips within the city because the situation is too insecure for them to go there.

The posters in red depict the pictures of young women that the Pinochet junta regime kidnapped and who are still missing. The poster of the little girl in her school uniform jumping the turnstile reads, “Against the disposal and the violence of the colonial, capitalist, patriarchy. We resist for life. We march for transformation.” The final picture, bottom right, says, “I am the artist. NOT the muse.”

Palestinian Solidarity Street Art

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog postings, we saw evidence of solidarity with Palestinians in all the countries we visited. In South America, only French Guiana does not recognize the State of Palestine. In Santiago, however, support for Palestinians seemed omnipresent. I remembered a friend in Bethlehem telling me in the 1990s that there were more Palestinian Christians from Bethlehem in Santiago, Chile than there were Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. I also remember his taxi driver friend telling me he didn’t want to emigrate, but the Israeli closure of Bethlehem had tanked the economy, and he had family in Santiago who could help him start a new life there. Nearly half a million Palestinians live in Chile today.

From the top left: I took this picture from a car, so it’s not the greatest, but you can see the Palestinian woman wearing a keffiyeh (incidentally, some Palestinian Muslim women do wear keffiyehs—usually as a political statement, but it’s unusual. They prefer more fashionable headscarves. Keffiyehs are for working-class men.) On the top right, the posters say, “Together in the Struggle,” and feature an Indigenous woman, a Black woman and a Palestinian woman. Bottom left is a stencil showing a Palestinian woman holding a baby, with the statement: “Patriarchy equals genocide.” The next poster is a lithography saying, “Free Palestine.” (Below that is a poster saying “Milk is rape.”). Hanging on the same screen are posters saying, “No+Genocide,” with abstract figures in the colors of the Palestinian flag. On the bottom right, the top slogan says, “Palestinian Woman Resist.” (Below, in red, it says “Woman, light your fire” and, in black, “To abort is a right.”)

We have a friend in Rochester from Chile who encouraged us to go to Valparaiso, because she doesn’t like Santiago, and thinks Valparaiso presents a more beautiful side of Chile. Valparaiso is indeed a picturesque city. Valparaiso has Latin America’s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, and Chile’s first public library. El Mercurio de Valparaiso is the world’s oldest Spanish language newspaper still in publication. UNESCO has called Valparaiso a World Heritage Site because of its historic importance as a seaport where ships stopped on their way to and from the Straits of Magellan before the Panama Canal was built.

Below is our lunchtime at a restaurant that our friend from Rochester recommended for the view. A driver in Santiago whom we liked agreed to take us to Valparaiso and then to the airport to catch our overnight flight. So of course, we invited him to eat with us. I ordered the dish our friend had recommended, the seafood soup. Good choice.

We took a walk into the center of the city before we went into its hills. This statue of the Greek god of justice, Themis, appealed to me. I think it was her swagger, with the hand on the hip. The plaque reads, “Themis, goddess of justice, ‘Figure and features of a young woman, a hard and fearsome look. Very vivid shine in her eyes, neither submissive or threatening, but with the dignity of a certain venerable sadness.'”

We then went up to the upper levels of Valparaiso on a funicular. The city has 17. Basically, they operate on the principle of counter weights. As one car goes down, it pulls the other one up. The pictures show the view from the top.

We thought we were seeing more Chilean street art in this hilly neighborhood, but the painter of both pictures has a Colombian Instagram address. I am not sure what the picture on the right signifies. The picture on the left shows Chile being drained of its resources. I am guessing the octopus pig is multinational corporations? Or other nations? The “Liberty of Chile” is one thing octopus pig is stealing.

Back to Reality

The flight from Santiago to Atlanta was very long, and my back was throbbing by the time we landed. You know how I complained in a previous blog post about Chile not having cheap espresso drinks? Well, a cup of IHOP coffee was a sad, sad way to end the trip.

However, we did have a lovely brief visit with Michael’s friend Maidie as we waited for our flight home in Atlanta.

As I write, we are halfway through June. I’ve been job hunting and tending the garden. When I reflect on the trip this spring, I would say my favorite part of the trip was visiting friends. I am glad that Sandra and Tuti feel safe in the countries they once fled, but I also think of all the students, intellectuals, dissidents, and ordinary people who simply wanted a better society and met terrible ends in their nations.

Learning the histories of these countries also left me with the conviction to never take democracy for granted. Some Colombians, Uruguayans, Argentinians and Chileans feel nostalgic for the times of dictatorship and political assassinations. There will always be privileged people who support governments that engage in unimaginable cruelties, as long as this tyranny results in the elites living comfortable lives, and as long as the government’s misinformation brainwashes enough people.

Those who have ears let them hear.

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