This Wednesday, Rastros – Traces of Culture opened at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, a group exhibition initiated by the Embassy of Chile, which according to a press release “investigates relations between Chilean culture and Swedish experiences”. During the opening, six of the seven participating artsts arranged an “action in solidarity with the people of Chile”. Artworks were covered with red drapes, and a declaration was read out in front of the invited guests. The atmosphere, according to an action report published by the group, became very unpleasant.
Since just under two weeks there have been intense protests in Chile, directed against the sitting government led by president Sebastián Piñera. The immediate cause of the protests was a small price raise in the Santiago subway. But the raise was only the spark that blew the powder keg. On a deeper level, the protests concern the social and economic inequality of Chilean society, which has been intensified rather than mitigated during a period when the Chilean economy has undergone rapid growth.
There is today a new will – in Chile, but also in other Latin American countries and beyond – to tear up the neoliberal contract that was signed by general Pinochet and his allies after the military coup in 1973, and which still governs the country’s social and economic policies.
Chilean authorities have responded to the protests, which have spread from Santiago and are today a countrywide movement, with violence and exceptional juridical measures. On Sunday, Piñera described the situation as a state of “war”, and police forces and emergency military units have confronted the demonstrations with remarkable brutality. 18 persons have been killed so far, prompting the UN humans rights council to send a special mission to the country.
Many see the Chilean regime’s war rhetorics, police violence and state of exception as a return to the authoritarian repression of the dictatorship years. Reactions have been strong, forcing Piñera into partial retreat, but so far without managing to appease the protestors. As late as yesterday, large demonstrations were arranged in squares in many of the country’s largest cities, and the protests show no signs of abating.
The protest action at the Museum of World Culture was arranged to prevent a situation where the exhibition would serve to “whitewash” the actions of the Chilean authorities. The action also aimed to provide a counterimage to reports in Swedish and international media, which have in many cases dismissed the protestors as spoiled hooligans. During the evening Jorge Alcaide played music with “saucepan elements”, with reference to the “cacerolazos” of the Chilean demonstrators.
“Since one week there have been massive manifestations and student demonstrations in Chile”, the artists state in the declaration that was read out during the opening. “In the beginning they concerned raised public transport prices, but they have since then grown into a countrywide protest movement against inequality, the privatizations of natural resources and pensions, the deteriorated educational and health care systems, and the raised living costs, as well as the private-public corruption that has been exposed in the country in recent years.”
“Feminist organizations and trade unions, indigenous people, public servants and students have all joined peaceful demonstrations in streets and squares,” the declaration continues, “while larger, established TV and media channels obscure the broad support and transmit an image of chaos and vandalization, in order to polarize, undermine, and criminalize the movement. They want to shift the focus, turn public opinion against the popular protests and redirect attention away from what the demonstrations are really about, that is, social rights and an end to injustices.”
– Considering that this exhibition was initiated by the Embassy of Chile, it felt important for us to mark our critical position with regards to the Chilean authorities and to express our solidarity with the protestors in Chile, participating artist Angela Duran Jofré says to Kunstkritikk.
– We posed two demands. From the embassy we required that we be given opportunity to read our declaration at the private showing that was arranged for thirty or so special guests important to Swedish-Chilean relations. If we were not granted that opportunity we would dismantle our exhibition and instead turn directly to Swedish media. From the museum we demanded that our declaration should remain available at the museum during the remaining exhibition period, which it will be, although we are still discussing exactly how that will be arranged practically. It is essential to us that our exhibition remains a small irritant for the sitting Chilean government and its representatives in Sweden, Duran Jofré explains.