Chilean Art in Los Angeles
Shifra M. Goldman
Literatura Chilena en el Exilio. N 14 Abril 1980
'On May third (1974) at three in the afternoon, five Chilean Air Force intelligence cars surrounded my home. Soldiers with helmets, war uniforms and machine guns were set in combat position pointing at my house. All this military display to arrest a single person...' So testified Chilean painter Guillermo Núñez (former professor of Fine Arts at the University of Chile and former Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago) before UNESCO, Paris, in 1975. Five months later, and 33 pounds lighter, he was released under house arrest.
'...This cruel experience was rendered in drawings, paintings, engravings, sculpture and poetry (in which) I would speak of man alienated, destroyed, annihilated, humiliated, blindfolded, forced to see a distorted reality; separated from nature and his fellow man.' Arrested again for exhibiting these works, Nunez was imprisoned at Tres Alamos, a torture center, and at Puchuncavi'. a concentration camp, before being expelled from Chile as a 'threat to national security.'
Núñez' works are among the most powerful of the 'Chilean Artists in Exile' exhibition presently being shown at the Exploratorium Gallery in the University Students Union, as part of Chilean Culture Week being held from February 4 to 10. The statement quoted above provides the background that emotionally informs the paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, and mixed media works of 20 artists, 17 men and three women, who have lived outside Chile after the overthrow of the Salvador Allende government in September 1973 by a military coup. A few of the artists have dealt with symbols of hope and resistance; such is the case with Raul Sotomayor's two woodcuts, The Horse of the Resistance, and an image of a triumphant woman haloed with large leaves whose unborn baby can be seen ready for birth, or with Sergio Castillo's small constructivist bronze sculpture Homage to Salvador Allende. The great majority, however, have expressed rage, bitterness, despair, and sorrow at the brutality and dehumanization visited upon the Chilean people since the coup. Nunez himself, in five black-and-white prints and the two paintings Imprisoned Country and Silenced Voices, works with surreal biomorphic forms reminiscent of his famous compatriot Roberta Matta Echaurren (five of whose works appear in the show), whose configurations suggest bats, root-like insects, snag-toothed animals, and dead or mutilated bodies, bloody viscera, and barbed wire.
Matta's giant horizontal pastel on paper (like a small mural) features two of his familiar anthropomorphic figures, one with a cigar, interspersed with what appear to be a television screen and a whirling ball. Scattered between the figures are alphabet-soup (graffiti?) letters which spell out International Idiot. Four small lithographs in gray and sanguine deal with scenes of violent confrontation between the Chilean military and the people, terminating with a scene in the presidential palace in which the robot-like military, with snarling dogs and soldiers, execute Allende. Behind them presides Uncle Sam - a reference to widely-publicized U.S. involvement in the 'destabilization' and overthrow of the elected Allende government.
Though Malta's talent and reputation, through his association with the Bretonian surrealist movement of Paris in the 1930s and his permanent French residence, have penetrated the world of'Western art history' generally indifferent to Latin American artists (particularly those who elect to work in their own countries), visitors to the exhibition should not overlook the many fine artists whose names are lesser known. Particularly to be noted are the drawings of Nemesio Antúnez whose abstraction Letter from Chile suggests a snowy mountain landscape with a deluge of black rain with an ominous black grid overlay. His Victor Jara II, with a quotation from slain Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, suggests the football stadium where folksinger Jara was tortured and killed; his red-lined burning guitar (consonant with the words of the poem) surmounts the gray and blue washes of the drawing. Juan Bernal Ponce's series of small color etchings feature monstruous and grotesque Kafka-like creatures, multi-legged and half-human, in a savage depiction of the generals, the police, and the torturers who preside over jails and dismembered bodies. In a different vein, Helga Krebs' three collage works offset their satirical and fantastic content with brilliant flat colors and textures with a range of materials from construction and gold paper to a multi-colored wool-knit creature. They remind one of the superb Cuban and Chilean posters which became so well known in the 1970s.
Rene Castro's mixed media works We judge That..., and Red Circle, should be noted, as should Jose Balmes' airbrush and pastel drawings in the social protest realist tradition; Humberto Loredo's filagree-fine ink drawings The Sad Flute, and The Colonizer, as well as Raul Schneider's expressionist neo-figurative ink drawings of fantastic athletes, are also among the sixty works on display.