Walking around Santiago for a week, I saw it as a magical city. In many neighborhoods, almost every house front is covered with original murals in a dazzling array of styles. Chile is saturated by the long trail of migrations that formed its multivalent society, including a huge wave in the 1930s of imperiled anti-Franco/anti-fascists from Spain. In the 1970s, Chile democratically elected the socialist Salvador Allende as leader and then experienced a far-right military backlash that jailed, tortured, and often murdered anyone remotely associated with him. But the kind of resilience that carried Chile through this trauma is evident in the widespread love of art. There are many museums and bookshops throughout the city, and children’s books are popular as an art form.
Migration, as we are vividly aware, is a fact that we can resist and fight against, take for granted, acknowledge, or welcome. In Chile, there is some effort to open up the dialogue about migration to include the contribution of Indigenous peoples along with the much more recent influx of Europeans and of Africans into the continent.
Always, it is artists who can really unfold the deeper significance of this dynamic. In her exhibition Migration at the MAVI (Museo de Artes Visuales International) in the lively Plaza Mulato Gil de Castro neighborhood, and in her book, De aquí y de allá (From Here and From There), Maya Hanisch celebrates the fundamental fact of migration as a basis for Chilean society. Hanisch is a children’s book author/illustrator who has shown in places as varied as Korea and Italy.
In her simple, dynamic graphic style, a wall of drawings offers portraits of various groups who landed on these shores. Enslaved Africans; Asians, Middle-Easterners, and Europeans as refugees; invited settlers, or imported laborers: all came into this long, narrow, north/south-oriented country with its incredible range of physical environments, including deserts, mountains, agricultural lands, volcanoes, extensive coastline, and offshore super-fisheries. The wall is flanked by a video monitor on which a grandmotherly woman recounts this litany of arrivals and diversity, as a young man beside her offers the words in sign language. The sense of inclusiveness and welcome is heightened by this dual video presence.
The day I visited the multi-level MAVI, a sophisticated installation on the two bottom levels eloquently dramatized the horror that humans are wreaking on the oceans. On the top floor, a small archaeology museum features cultural objects such as clothing, hats, jewelry, and baskets dating as far back as 1000 BC. Installed poetically in this space was an array of these artifacts along with film of current Indigenous people harvesting plants, weaving, and living their lives. The artist, Francisco Huichaqueo, himself of Indigenous heritage, had suspended the items among the projections, suggesting they were being animated or lifted by the cinematic intervention. It had a haunting, magical effect.