Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

CHILE: Exhibit to Celebrate Indigenous Art

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Aug 19 2008 (IPS) - More than 100 artists from Chile’s nine indigenous groups will take part in the second biennial exhibition of indigenous art in the capital Oct. 17-Nov. 2, which hopes to draw at least 30,000 visitors.

“It is important for society to become familiar with the culture, customs and day-to-day lives of native people, because they generally only receive attention when they are involved in conflicts” and protests, Paula Pilquinao Painenao, the director of the exhibition, told IPS.

In 2006, 120 artists participated in the first edition of the event, which was visited by 15,000 people. The theme of the second edition, to be held at the governmental Cultural Centre of the La Moneda Palace (CCPLM), is “women and the power of speech in indigenous communities”.

“In the different oral accounts of indigenous groups in Chile and the rest of the Americas, woman is the creator of the universe, unlike in western, Christian belief systems,” said Pilquinao, a Mapuche instrument maker who has a degree in education.

“Women are associated with nature, with reproduction. They also transmit the native languages” from generation to generation, she added.

The exhibition is organised by the Programa Orígenes, an initiative for the integral development of indigenous communities financed by the Chilean state and a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and run by the National Indigenous Development Board (CONADI) – the government agency responsible for indigenous affairs – and the Planning Ministry.

Other sponsors of the event include the Education Ministry, the National Council on Culture and the Arts, the Library of the National Congress and the Bicentennial Commission.

The nine native ethnic groups officially recognised by the Chilean state are the Atacameña, Colla, Diaguita, Quechua, Rapa Nui, Kawhaskar, Yagán, Aymara and Mapuche. The Mapuche make up 87 percent of the country’s indigenous people, who comprise 6.6 percent of the population of 15.6 million.

The call for works, which was open from Jun. 10 to Aug. 11, received 100 submissions from artists who signed up over the Internet or in offices of the Programa Orígenes or CONADI.

In addition, a group of indigenous experts has been touring the country to invite the participation of outstanding artists who have not submitted works for whatever reason.

A panel presided over by Mapuche architect Eliseo Huencho, director of the first biennial exhibition, will make the final selection on Sept. 2-3.

The exhibit encompasses the visual arts, both traditional and modern, as well as scenic arts, audiovisual arts and writing, especially short stories, poetry and history.

Pilquinao said that one of the main issues focused on by participating artists is the “defence of nature,” which is represented by a woman. The works presented also protest the discrimination and marginalisation faced on a daily basis by indigenous people in Chile, she said.

She acknowledged that the event has also been criticised by several communities that are demanding autonomy from the Chilean state, especially some factions of the Mapuche people, whose ancestral territory is in the southern regions of Bío-Bío, Araucanía and Los Lagos.

In some Mapuche areas, a long history of conflicts over what native communities claim as their ancestral land continues today, and prominent human rights groups have reported abuses suffered by indigenous villagers at the hands of the security forces.

“They have told me that they cannot accept this because it comes from the state. It is a position that we respect. We cannot force everyone to see this as a good thing. There will always be people who don’t agree,” said Pilquinao.

She underlined that the exhibition is open to all artistic expressions and that there is no censorship of works of protest.

“This is an opportunity for artists to show and sell their work,” she said. However, indigenous artists do not find it easy to participate in the event.

“The artists see the biennial as something very important, to which time and work must be dedicated,” and that means they do not want to merely select one of their existing pieces of work, said Pilquinao. “They want to create something special, which fits the exhibit’s theme,” she explained.

“In some cases, the installations involve expensive audiovisual supports and materials. We have been asked for financing for artistic projects, but we don’t have funds for that,” she said.

The only solution the organisers have come up with for now is letters of support for the selected artists, to help them in their quest for private sector funds, said Pilquinao.

This year’s exhibit will pay homage to the late renowned Ecuadorean painter and sculptor Oswaldo Guayasamín, born to an indigenous father and a mother of mixed-race descent. Visitors will be able to view around 20 of his works, which will be brought in from Ecuador.

In addition, several museums in the capital will hold parallel exhibits on the country’s indigenous heritage, and a series of seminars and forums on indigenous issues will begin on Sept. 5, International Indigenous Women’s Day.

Pilquinao also announced the first edition of the new annual Santos Chávez (a Mapuche artist) prize for indigenous artists, to be awarded by the National Council on Culture and the Arts, the CCPLM and CONADI.

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