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Chileans channel street rage into art at protest museum

Miguel Sanchez

Agence France-Presse

Santiago, Chile  /  Tue, November 17, 2020  /  08:07 am
Chileans channel street rage into art at protest museum

A man visits the Social Uprising Museum, which exhibits street art pieces regarding the protests against the Chilean government of Sebastian Pinera in Santiago on November 11, 2020. (AFP/Martin Bernetti)

Awash with multicolored posters, angry graffiti and other symbols of protest -- metal shields, tear gas cartridges -- Santiago's Museum of Social Uprising is aiming to keep alive the memory of months of deadly demonstrations that have left a lasting mark on Chile.

Months of demonstrations that left more than 30 people dead broke out in October 2019, initially against rising public transport fares but quickly mushrooming into wider anger at social inequality.

As a colorful backdrop to the ugly clashes, the walls of Santiago were soon screaming their own artistic protest. The messages of the murals bore the accumulated rage of years of social injustice, but also the hopes of a raft of young Chilean artists for a better future.

Now, with the tumult of the streets quietened, the rage has been preserved at the museum -- located a stone's throw from Plaza Italia, the epicenter of the uprising.

"We wanted to create this space to show what was expressed in the street during the demonstrations," visual artist Marcel Sola told AFP. 

The museum brings together the work of some 70 street artists, asked to reproduce their protest pieces and assemble assorted objects seen as emblematic of the protests.

They include frescoes that appeared at the height of the demonstrations, one depicting Salvador Allende -- the former socialist leader overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet in 1973 -- wearing a jacket of colored flowers and shaping a heart with his hands. Another shows a masked angel with the word "dignity" inscribed on its forehead.

Read also: Anti-racism protest signs, murals destined for US Smithsonian

Pots, pans and tear gas

The largest piece is Sola's giant sculpture of the stray dog that became a symbol of the uprising. A red bandana around its neck, the black dog attained celebrity status during earlier student demonstrations against the police. Protesters nicknamed the animal "Negro Matapacos" -- or Black Cop-Killer.

The museum opened at the beginning of November, just after the referendum in which Chileans voted overwhelmingly to replace the Pinochet-era constitution -- seen as the principal obstacle to fundamental reform.

Even with restricted opening hours due to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum receives around 150 visitors a day. Many of them were participants in the events which the exhibits memorialize, moved now as they reflect quietly on the news photos and videos of the protests.

"I like the warmth I felt when I arrived. I felt at home. It gave me a lot of memories and a little bit of grief," said Pedro, a 24-year-old musician.

"I felt like it was a collection of things in the streets, but in very artistic terms," said Mailen, a 27-year old saleswoman.

Among the objects that stand out are the metal shields fashioned by the radical "frontline" protesters -- hooded youths who, armed with sticks and stones, confronted the riot-police, the water cannon and the tear gas. For some they were heroes of the demonstrations, for others, vandals.

Other works depict the 460 victims who received serious eye injuries during the protests, mostly from the impact of birdshot or tear gas canisters fired by the riot police.

There are also the pots and pans frantically beaten by ordinary men and women, to make their anger heard in countless "cacerolazo" protests

Those that hang in the museum bear the words: "Now that we woke up, we must be conscious."

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