Posted by Anna Rappoport- MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU
It is easy to interact with memory in Santiago- every neighborhood displays it proudly. From street art in Barrio Brasil and Barrio Yungay, to the polished, classically inspired architecture that surrounds La Moneda. However, public representations of memory regarding the events of September 11th, 1973 and the eighteen years of dictatorship that followed are often tucked away- representative of many Chileans “out of sight, out of mind” attitudes. Looking even further outside the capital- where the majority of atrocities under the dictatorship occurred- proved even more difficult.
Chile is one of the few Latin American countries that has actively supported sites of memory throughout the country, lending governmental and financial support for the creation of museums, memorials, preservation of sites of torture and detainment, and other public spaces that commemorate the gross human rights violations of the Pinochet regime. While many sites began through the preservation efforts of victims’ family members and survivors, the government has incorporated many into DIBAM (Directory of Libraries, Archives and Museums) or Chile’s National Patrimony. My project enabled me to travel to the Region Metropolitana to explore the numerous sites of memory around the region, and I particularly focused on the Museum of Memory and Human Rights and the Paine Memorial, located about 30 minutes south of Santiago.
Paine is a small agricultural town best known for their watermelons, however prior to the Agricultural Reform that occurred in 1972, struggled with the extreme inequality of the latifundio system. Aided by Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), some of Paine’s campesinos joined together to reclaim the lands they worked from the latifundio owners. When Pinochet took control of Chile in 1973, the latifundio owners and carabineros hunted down Paine’s campesinos, MIRistas, and sympathizers that took over the lands. 31 years after these unjust murders, the Paine Memorial was conceived.
The official name of the Paine Memorial is Memorial Paine: Un lugar para la memoria (Paine Memorial: A Space for Memory), and is maintained by the Agrupacion de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos y Ejecutados de PaineCorporation (Association of Families of the Disappeared Detainees and Executed of Paine). There are no paid, full time staff members at the site, except for a lone security officer at the entrance. The two people I met- Diego and Tamara- kindly guided me around the memorial after I had some moments of my own to explore the 70 mosaics that cover the site. 930 wooden poles of varying heights, representing the two mountain ranges that surround the valley, surround the mosaics. Each mosaic represents a Disappeared Detainee or executed person from Paine, and the mosaics were designed by each victim’s family to eternally commemorate their lives.
Diego gave insight into the creative process of the mosaics. Each family had to take a course on mosaics and consulted artists to assist in the design process. However, each family had to individually decide how to best represent their loved one. Diego shared his own grandfather’s mosaic and explained how his family planned his mosaic.
His grandfather, Pedro Antonio Cabezas Villegas, was 36 years old at the time of disappearance. He was an agricultural worker, not affiliated with any political party or military, but held a position on the local syndicate. On October 16th, 1973, Pedro Antonio disappeared and was never seen again. He was survived by a wife, children, and now grandchildren- all of whom played a role in commemorating Pedro Antonio at the Paine Memorial. Diego explained that in his family’s case, each generation wanted to represent Pedro Antonio’s life differently in the mosaic.
Pedro Antonio’s wife (Diego’s grandmother) section has two silhouettes embracing each other and a house built in the typical style of the region, representing the home they built and the life they had together. Diego also commented that there is an element of loneliness to his grandmother’s portion. The children of Pedro Antonio chose to represent their father with a “tree” made out of the handprints of Pedro Antonio’s descendants. The family remembers its roots, which are the hands of Pedro Antonio and his wife. Finally, the grandchildren, raised with the image of their grandfather as an agricultural worker who worked hard to better his community, chose the image of a horse in a field, along with the traditional hat of the area. Finally, all three sections are surrounded by black and gray tiles, which can be interpreted as the shades of gray in an otherwise seemingly black world.
To this day, Diego’s family has never recovered Pedro Antonio’s remains. No one has been prosecuted for the crimes committed at Paine, though the Corporation Paine and the Association of Families of the Disappeared Detainees and Executed of Paine have begun community outreach efforts with local schoolchildren and other community members. The memorial itself is beautiful and moving, but its tucked away from the rest of the town, a gem squeezed between the highway and a very small town. Above all, being at the Memorial in Paine makes you wonder; “how would your loved ones commemorate your life? “”What design would encapsulate your existence?”