Chilean art has a long history, starting with pre-Columbian art (that is, art prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus). This type of art includes pottery, cave drawings, and body art. Most of the art was created for either for two reasons: religion or social. Many of the designs and figures used, including the body painting, was used for religious ceremonies.
Of course Easter Island is most famous for its large stone-carved heads called mo'ai. Although we call them "Easter Island heads," they actually also contain a torso and upper part of the legs (as if they were kneeling). There are about 887 statues on the island that have been accounted for. Each of these statues were created in honor of deceased heads of families. Of course, my kids call it "Squidward's house."
The arrivals of Europeans led to a new era in art. Different styles that were used in Europe were introduced in colonial Chile as well. Soon, there were many different schools popping up around newly formed South American cities. Most of the early subjects of these paintings were either portraits, landscapes, or of some sort of religious background. The Spanish Jesuits were responsible for the teaching of much of the arts in Chile during these early years. (Every time I hear about the Jesuits, I think of the book Candide.)
Throughout the years, many foreign-born painters have made their home in Chile starting in the 1800s. Painters from Germany, France, and other South American countries soon made their name in Chile and influenced another generation of painters. Some of the more prolific names that made their mark were José Gil de Castro, Mauricio Rugendas, Raymond Monvoisin, and Ernesto Chartan de Treville. Two Chilean artists of this same time were Manuel Antonio Caro and Vicente Pérez Rosales.
In the early part of the 20th century, a group of artists came together to form The 13 Generation. The group took many of the styles that were indicative of the pre-Columbian era and combined it with creating art for a social statement. Much of their art was aimed at the working class and farmers to portray their lives and struggles. While each artist has their own particular style, some general characteristics include the use of wider brush strokes and darker colors to signify the darker times. And since they were also influenced by the art schools of Europe, many of the European artistic movements were also happening in Chile as well. There are several artists who were identified as members, but some of them were Arturo Gordon, Ricardo Gilbert, Otto Georgi, Judith Alpi, Agustín Abarco, among others. Other artist groups popped up throughout the decades, and new artistic styles and movements passed through Chile as well, including realism, surrealism, cubism, etc.
Chilean literature has certainly made its mark across the world. Two of the most famous Chilean writers are poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. I first came across Pablo Neruda several years ago. I was grading the essay portion of standardized tests, and one question was regarding a poem by Pablo Neruda. I think it was called “We Smelled the Cordwood.” I wrote a parody of the poem that included the random things kids wrote in their essays and the jokes my grading team had. Pablo Neruda would be proud. I’m sure of it. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Interestingly, he almost always tried to write in green ink, the color he associated with hope and desire. He was also a prominent member of the Communist Party, which didn’t win him many friends in high places. When Augusto Pinochet took over in a coup (whose extreme censorship and curfew was responsible for the deaths of nearly 3200 people and another 29,000 who were tortured under his regime, not to mention the roughly 1500 people who just wound up missing), Pablo Neruda was hospitalized with cancer. There’s a bit of controversy over whether Neruda did in fact die of heart failure related to cancer, or if he was helped along by members of the Pinochet administration. I even read about new findings as recent as last year. The Italian film Il Postino is about Pablo Neruda’s time in exile while on an island near Sicily; he befriends the postman and introduces him to love poetry. I’ve not seen the film yet, but I have heard of it. (And I promptly added it to my Netflix queue.)
Gabriela Mistral was not only a poet, but also an educator and a feminist. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945, and so far is the only Latin American woman to do so. In fact she was only the fifth woman of all the winners to covet the esteemed prize. She had left and lived in France and Italy as well as worked in other countries, almost exiled from her own country. She’s most known for her Poemas de Chile (Poems of Chile) and for Su Nombre es Hoy (His Name is Today). Her face is printed on the 5000 Chilean peso bill.
A couple of months ago, I had just finished reading House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. I didn’t know anything about this book or the author before I read it, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Later, I watched the movie made in 1993 that had an outstanding cast to it, but I thought it was a terrible rendition of the book. One, they left out characters, and experiences that happened to the granddaughter in the book happened to the daughter in the movie, and so on; Two, there were far too few scenes with Antonio Banderas in it. Although Allende was born and raised in Chile, she moved to the US after marrying and American, and she’s currently an American citizen. Throughout the years, she’s won numerous awards, prizes, and nominations, most notably the Chilean National Prize for Literature in 2010.
Up next: music and dance