Creativity and Regeneration: The Explosive Art Scene of Chile

POSTED: Saturday, January 12, 2019



Chile’s violent and dictatorial past still looms large for many in this beautiful and vibrant country. Pinochet’s regime ended officially in 1990, but the horrors of fascism still burn in the recent memories of many of its inhabitants. Despite this, since the reinstatement of democracy, Chile has experienced an incredible rush of creative and cultural regeneration, as spaces and events are reclaimed and reimagined by Chile’s prolific and energetic creative community.



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During the dictatorship, museums and galleries were controlled and censored by the regime. They were, therefore, unable to support most contemporary artists, who were often forced to avoid the harsh gaze of the government. Now, it feels as if this endangered and obscured creativity has been released and the out-pouring is only growing. Now artists are supported by the government. Visual artist Maria Karantzi who lives and works in Santiago claims that “Artists here are given the opportunity to apply for a state fund from the Culture Ministry called Fondart, which covers anything from production costs to promotion and travel expenses for art-related reasons”. 



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It has become common for disused spaces, including railway stations, government buildings and factories to be transformed into cultural centres. A place which really captures Chile’s generous and creatively rich nature is the prison-turned-cultural centre that rests on a hill overlooking the port city. Parque Cultural de Valparaíso is a tranquil and inspiring architectural complex built on the site of a Public Prison. The enormous cell block has been transformed into a community space housing a dance studio, museum, workrooms and a rambling flower garden. A field provides space for families and friends to relax, while across the park a huge and architecturally impressive new structure is home to a theatre, library and fine art gallery. 



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The site was originally used by the Spanish as a Gunpowder storehouse during the Napoleonic wars. It then became a prison under the Spanish and remained so after independence, but fell into disuse in 1999 when a new facility was built. At this point, it was given an unexpected new lease of life. The site was taken over by artists and local creatives who slowly transformed the space into a hopeful and vibrant hub of imagination. In 2010 the Chilean government took up this vision, and held a national architecture competition to augment the work of local artists and turn the entire site into the vibrant, positive and joyful space it is today. 



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While the complex itself is highly modern and impressive, this does not result in an intimidating or overly highbrow feel. The exhibitions are often socially minded, supporting local artists and championing low-cost art that gives it an inclusive and inviting air. for example, I was greeted by a fascinating and aesthetically delightful exhibition of photography by local young people that had been inexpensively printed and tacked to the wall without decoration or flourish. 



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This is, in fact, typical of Chilean galleries, where even in their most famous institutions there is rarely embellishment or pomp. This style allows the work to truly speak for itself and invites a more friendly and democratic atmosphere, while also creating a distinctive and inspiring aesthetic. The vast difference between the art permitted by the fascist regime and this cheap and intellectual work is demonstrative of the enormous cultural change that has taken place in Chile over the last 30 years. 



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