From Dance & Song to Film & Art: How Chilean Protesters Uplift Their Struggles

Lead Photo: Women sing and perform during the demonstration and performance of 'Un Violador en Tu Camino' organized by feminist group Lastesis on November 29, 2019 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
Women sing and perform during the demonstration and performance of 'Un Violador en Tu Camino' organized by feminist group Lastesis on November 29, 2019 in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images
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The voices on the streets of Chile speak loud and clear: there is no turning back. What started as a high school student-led protest against a rise to the subway fare on October 17 has now become a popular process that pushes for the structural transformation of Chilean society to end neoliberalism. The process has been sparked by the calls to strike, on an almost daily basis, from different civil groups, including worker unions, high school student federations, university student associations, feminist organizations and by a span of guilds of cultural workers. Among the masses gathering on the streets to take down colonial and patriarchal monuments and people congregating in asambleas and cabildos all over the country and in communities abroad are artists who are using culture to push their vision of justice forward.

What used to be an art system organized around state institutions, conservative media, private galleries and markets has now found a new site of legitimacy: the streets. Many new forms of art have appeared, and many artists that were in the underground have surfaced as the creators of new metaphors in line with the temperature of the Chilean spring: enraged, hopeful, playful, celebratory and revolutionary. 

As international groups conclude that the Chilean government is guilty of committing human rights violations and President Sebastián Piñera attempts to right wrongs with a series of measures, artists are uplifting the people’s struggle and illuminating the diversity that was breeding in the undergrounds of the shallow Chilean oasis. 

Feminist Performances

During the first days of the protest, performance artist Cheril Linett, along with her collective Yeguada Latinoamericana, took the streets with a series of three performances under the title Estado de Rebeldía. In her usual style, Linett situates highly aestheticized bodies in abject situations. On this occasion, a group of young women stride the streets with skirts rolled around their waists shoving mares’ tails in front of armed police, military groups, barricades and government buildings. 

Not far away, visual artist Rocío Hormazábal worked against social stereotypes of beauty to cast a light over the systems of oppression. With her collaborator Zaida González, she defied curfew and, under the banner of “Piñera me empelota,” Hormazábal got naked between a barricade and a group of armed police. On November 25, she posed in a bikini in the Plaza de la Dignidad declaring “Por un verano sin Piñera.”

This was not the only feminist performance that has gone viral. Now more famously, the collective Las Tesis, started by Daffne Valdés, Sibila Sotomayor, Paula Cometa and Lea Cáceres, created a massive choreographed declaration about the subjugation of women in patriarchal society called Un Violador en Tu Camino. Since then, the song and dance have been performed by feminist groups protesting violence against women across the world, including Puerto Rico, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, France, Germany and more. Ironically, the original choir of women who sang and danced the song in Chile were dispersed by the police.

Film Collectives

La Escuela Popular de Cine, created in 2010 by filmmakers Carolina Adriazola and José Luis Sepúlveda and currently led by the collective Feciso, teaches, produces and shows films in a peripheral circuit that does not include any established cinema chain or art house theater. While previously documenting the tomas in Lo Hermida and the student protests of 2011, today their YouTube channel has been uploading material that documents the social movement as experienced in working-class neighborhoods or that creatively denounces human rights abuses. Captured and quickly put into circulation, the camera conveys a sense of urgency as people confront the police or as communities gather to remember their compañeros assassinated by law enforcement. 

Similarly, the Mapa Fílmico de un País, more popularly known as the MAFI collective,  has been creating static single-shot snippets that are shared on their webpage and social media. Originating as topographic filmmaking to create another cartography of the national territory, their current films are shorter than two minutes and have a delicate, contemplative quality, whether they frame protesters in Plaza de la Dignidad, rural Chile or Paris.  

Public Art

The streets have become a great canvas. Not only are the walls of downtown Santiago, the South American country’s capital, swarming in graffiti but mural art is also being reinvented. The large-scale paintings of the rebirthed Brigadas Ramona Parra, the iconic art collective of the communist youth that embellished the capital city during the 1960s and early ‘70s, have created other messages in their distinct, colorful style. 

Similarly, artist Miguel Ángel Castro has given a new interpretation to the emblematic Pablo Picasso painting Guernika. Hanging in several parts of the city, Castro intervenes Picasso’s original with imagery of the subway and names the people who have been killed these past weeks. 

Additionally, to protest the precarization of life, on October 22, various groups of architecture students co-created a striking intervention titled Por un Habitar Seguro. By drawing the plans of social housing on the concrete streets, they showed the precarious living conditions forced on the population by neoliberalism and unregulated construction businesses. 

But paint and chalk have not been the only medium. Since the first week of the protests, the masses that gathered in Plaza de la Dignidad saw messages projected onto one of the iconic buildings of neoliberalism in Santiago, Edificio Telefónica, with potent laser beams. The design and large-scale light art studio Delight Lab colored the protests with messages taken from the streets, such as “Dignidad,” “Constitucion 2020” and “No Estamos en Guerra.” On November 12, they projected an image of Camilo Catrillanca, a Mapuche community leader who was killed by officers last year, onto the National Congress. The messages were so effectively conveyed that the action was replicated around the world, with Chilean communities abroad projecting messages onto buildings in Shanghai, Madrid, Amsterdam, Rome, Berlin, Paris, San Juan, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Quito, Ciudad de México and New York under the collective title of “Mensajes Para Chile.” 

Digital Art

Visual artists and illustrators have been capturing the various emotions in the streets and quickly responding to events through social media hashtags. That is the case of visual artist Nicolás Grum, who started by uploading a previous work titled La balada del Paco Arrepentido. Other works, in the form of short messages, have followed, highlighting the strategies of the government, as in the drawing Aritmética Social, and the repression suffered during the protests, like designing a mask with a patch over its eye

Artist and filmmaker Joaquín Cociña, who suffered minor wounds due to a rubber pellet during a pacific protest, took a special interest in the blinding of young people, a strategy that has become a metaphor to counteract the slogan “Chile despertó.” By making a short and effective black-and-white animation, Cociña thinks about what it means to lose an eye as a visual artist. In the end, the face that is blinded acquires an enraged expression, readying to fight. 

Cociña´s collaborator Critóbal León, who is also an artist and a filmmaker, uploaded a video collage where we see the head of Jaime Guzmán, the right-wing ideologue of the Constitution of 1980 and former dictator Augusto Pinochet’s personal counselor. In his usual third-world gothic style, León allows Guzmán’s head to speak while laying on a laboratory that keeps him unnaturally alive. The video humorously expresses today’s events as continuity with the dictatorship.

Dance & Song

Classical dancer Catalina Duarte performed a piece during a protest. Dressed in red and holding a Chilean flag, a photograph by María Paz Morales catches her in front of the guanacos, or water guns, just before the repression. 

But not all the artistic expressions that have emerged during the protests have an author. Many impromptu performances quickly become the property of all. That is what happened to the cueca encapuchada — performances of the cueca, Chile’s national dance, while hooded. During the Pinochet dictatorship, women performed La Cueca Sola to protest the disappearance of their loved ones. Today, couples are dancing to Chile’s official dance wearing capuchas, or hoods, to cover their faces in an effort to disguise their identities and protect themselves from tear gas after they were banned by the government.

Certain songs have become emblematic of the movement, as is the case of Víctor Jara’s El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, originally written in solidarity with the people of Vietnam, and El Baile de los Que Sobran, originally written to express the rage of young people who had been left out of the economic prosperity. Today, both songs are chanted throughout the protests and sung by everyone who feels that they can protest the precarity imposed by neoliberalism.