Chile Despertó (Chile Woke Up) was the central slogan of the Chilean social uprising that erupted on October 18, 2019. Student protests against a minor subway fare hike of 30 pesos quickly transformed into a major social revolution. Under the banner, “It’s Not 30 Pesos, It’s 30 Years,” thousands of people across Chile took to the streets, banging on pots and pans to express anger at a renewed military presence in the street and their deep frustration with the political and economic legacies of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). On a political level, they called for a new constitution and for an end to impunity for Pinochet-era crimes. On a socio-economic level, they protested against the radical inequities arising from the free-market initiatives that had been put into place during the dictatorship in the areas of social security, education and healthcare by the so-called “Chicago Boys,” a group of University of Chicago-trained economists.
The estallido social (the social uprising or social explosion), as it came to be known, was accompanied by an estallido artístico (an artistic uprising), one marked by a remarkable outpouring of creative energy: wall graphics and graffiti, performance art and protest songs, and radical feminist interventions. For five months, the Chilean state tried unsuccessfully to take back the streets. It was only with the Covid-19 lockdowns beginning in March 2020 that the government was able to whitewash the walls that marked the initial stage of the 2019-20 social revolution.
This exhibition of original photographs by Eric Zolov and Terri Gordon-Zolov features some of the more salient and signature protest graphics of this period, virtually all of which have been erased from the walls. Drawn from their forthcoming book, The Walls of Santiago: Social Revolution and Political Aesthetics in Contemporary Chile (Berghahn Books), the works trace out central themes of the social revolution: the struggle against neoliberalism, the weight of historical memory, the ethics of anarchist and revolutionary violence, the demands of feminist and indigenous movements, the importance of humor as a protest strategy, and the excessive use of force by the state. As a result of the uprising, Chile is now in the process of writing a new constitution. “Chile Despertó” provides a small window into this profoundly democratic yet truly revolutionary process.