Across Chile, artists painted hopeful murals looking forward to a bright future under a new constitution drafted by a democratically convened Constitutional Convention — a 154-member body elected by popular vote. The progressive document was voted down in a country-wide referendum on Sunday, September 4, but the murals continue to stand as symbols of universal human rights, environmental justice, and social equality.
“The present Constitution of Chile was written and implemented through an internationally questioned plebiscite during the Pinochet Regime, and is probably among the last remains of what the right wing and military wanted to keep as status quo,” reads a statement authored by the mural painters. “As artists, we are fully aware of the importance of this moment, and strongly believe that our work on the streets can help bring awareness to others.”
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The project, titled Murales x El Apruebo (“Murals for the Approval”) commissioned 12 artists to paint murals depicting the core tenets of the new constitution and enlisted filmmaker Álvaro Gauna to create one-minute videos showing the artists’ processes. Murales x El Apruebo was a collaboration between the artist collective La Quimera and the Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales, a group that works with communities to advocate for environmental rights.
The new constitution proposed to tackle these issues head-on: It expanded climate change research, rewrote the nation’s policy on resource extraction, and named water “non-appropriable” (it is currently subject to privatization).
Over the last 13 years, more than half of Chile’s population of 19 million has been subjected to water scarcity as the country has experienced unprecedented drought. In the República neighborhood of Santiago, artist Mario Moreno (Sofrenia) reflected on the importance of water, depicting the water cycle and humans’ relationship with it in his mural “Por el derecho al AGUA.”
In addition to its environmental provisions, the draft constitution mandated Indigenous representation in government and outlined Indigenous sovereignty, which would have created autonomous Indigenous territories. Artist Ian Pierce, one of the leaders of Murales x El Apruebo, stressed that the project was conducted alongside local communities. His mural, “Por un Chile PLURINACIONAL,” was created with the Association of the We Newén, a Mapuche group in Chile.
The new constitution also called for gender parity in government representation, reflected in Francisco Maltez’s (Koshayuyo) mural “Por La no discriminación de GÉNERO Y DISIDENCIAS SEXUALES,” and made sweeping provisions for guaranteed access to healthcare and housing; significantly, it would have also fully legalized abortion in Chile, where the procedure is currently only available to women whose life was in danger, when a fetus is unviable, or when a pregnancy results from rape. In La Serena, artist collective Brigada Ramona Parra painted the side of a brick building with a mural advocating for universal human rights; the bottom left corner of the composition depicts a picket sign with the question “¿Dónde están?” — “Where are they?” — a reference to the disappeared victims of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Calls for a new government document began during the nation’s 2019 mass protests over inequality. Sunday’s failed vote (a staggering 62% to 38% upset) was a blow to Leftist president Gabriel Boric.; at 36 years old, Boric was elected last year as Chile’s youngest-ever president and his progressive government spearheaded the push for a new constitution. In an interview with Hyperallergic, Pierce said that the Left has been unsuccessful in garnering support from moderate and apolitical voters in Chile, a traditionally conservative nation.
“They haven’t been able to rally the population around issues that benefit them,” Pierce said. “Maybe we weren’t ready for these tremendous innovations.”
In a post on its Instagram, the artist collective Brigada Ramona Parra shared a message of perseverance: “Fear must never win over hope.”
The complete list of mural artists is as follows: Mario Moreno (Sofrenia); Francisco Maltez (Koshayuyo); Ian Pierce (Ekeko); Bastián Toledo (Newén); Millaray Sanhueza (Milla); Brigada Ramona Parra (BRP); Nathalie Zamora (Naath); Roberta Avalos (Alwe); Patricio Albornoz (Ecos); Sebastián González y Jennifer Díaz (Seba + Shetukitra); Claudia Aravena (Araxilos); and Luna Lee.