Sunday, 05 May 2019 08:43

There will be work for all! The story of a Chilean mural

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There will be work for all! The story of  a Chilean mural

Tim Hollins presents the story of a Chilean mural. You can see the banner version at El Sueño Existe in Machynlleth, West Wales, in August

During the Presidential election campaign in Chile in 1970, the tradition of painting murals on any and every available wall in towns and cities across the country was used to show the people, many of whom could not read, what the left coalition of Popular Unity and Salvador Allende were committing to achieve if elected.                                                   

In effect these murals became visual manifesto commitments, created by local mural painting ‘brigadas’, often called “Brigada Ramona Parra” to honour the memory of Ramona Parra. She was a young Chilean Communist, shot dead on a demonstration in 1946 at the age of 20. To this day her name is associated with political murals – follow the social media hashtag - #brigadaramonaparra


Ramona Parra

A series of 10 huge murals were painted on the outside wall of the Barros Lucos hospital in Santiago, each of which committed Allende and Popular Unity to a bold but straightforward policy in a different aspect of social transformation.


....Y HABRA TRABAJO PARA TODOS, ... AND THERE WILL BE WORK FOR ALL, Santiago hospital, Chile 1970

That is why the mural slogan begins with Y/AND. It is the next in a series of pledges, and commits the future Allende Government to achieving full employment. Others in the series made commitments in health, education, land reform, nationalisation of the mines and copper resources etc. All these mural pledges were achieved by Allende’s Government in the period 1970-73.

The military coup of September 11th 1973 brought everything to a brutally violent end. All traces of the socialist period were destroyed by the Chilean military, including the murals. Many of the members and supporters of Popular Unity who were not killed or disappeared were forcibly exiled to other countries. About 3,000 were exiled to Britain, and many of them still live here.

In 1976, three of the young Chilean students who ended up studying at Leeds University (Gilberto, Eduardo and Rafael) came across a poster of the Santiago mural “Y Habra Trabajo para Todos” and decided to paint a huge copy of the mural onto a wall in the Students’ Union, adding an English translation underneath.


1978, Leeds University Student Union – the mural on the refectory wall

But within a few years, the room in the Union was converted into a kitchen, and the mural was tiled over and disappeared from view for 36 years. An article (below) was published in the local paper, a copy of which survives: the mural is being painted in the background. It was a visual statement: “We are Chileans. We are here in Leeds. Here is something of our politics and culture as a gift to you from us.”


Fast forward to 2017 and a new generation of Chileans are studying at Leeds, most for MAs or PhDs, funded by the current Chilean Government. One of these, Mario, enjoys a pint, and on an evening out in the Union, needed to go the gents. But building work going on at the time meant the toilets were out of order. Desperate to find the toilet, Mario saw a door ajar, went in and was amazed to see, very recently uncovered, a Chilean flag – and the top part of the mural intact (this part had lain hidden behind a false ceiling).


Y HABRA TRABAJO PARA TODOS uncovered in 2017, severely damaged. The white star on blue and the figurative style showed that this was a Chilean mural from the 1970s

Mario, Victoria, Pedro and other Chileans sprang into action, and convinced the present-day Leeds Union to save the mural. With the support of Robert Knifton in the Fine Art and Heritage department, a National Lottery Heritage grant was secured for a project to completely restore the mural, and it is now a much valued piece of art and a political statement within the modern Union. Kasia, a young Polish muralist oversaw the painting process, which was a collective activity, not the creation of one artist.

However it can only be visited by appointment in Leeds, being a mural. So a further life for Y Habra Trabajo emerged - with the support of Gilberto, Eduardo and Rafael. A small group of El Sueño Existe festival organisers got together with INFAMOUS Community Arts to make a documentary film telling the extraordinary tale of this mural – and then to produce a further full size copy, but painted on a canvas cloth and thus able to hang in different locations.


October 2018 - Painting the new version. An ad hoc collective of around 30 Chileans and solidarity activists came together to paint the cloth over an exhilarating weekend in Birmingham. Gilberto’s grandson Luca, his daughter Tatiana and Keith (Chile Solidarity Campaign/Chile 45 Years On) with brush in hand.

What does the mural depict? To the right, a young long-haired young woman is gathering wheat. In the centre and to the left are Chilean workers, a miner wearing a miners’ helmet and lamp and the central green and white face (or is it 2 faces? - there is a strong influence of Cubism and Picasso in these murals) together with a large hammer – perhaps a reference to the hammer and sickle. Above the figures flies the Chilean flag (often depicted in these murals) from a banner pole grasped by a worker’s fist. At the top is the slogan “Y HABRA TRABAJO PARA TODOS”.


But it symbolises far more. Firstly our hopes for a better world, in Chile, Leeds, Birmingham, Wales, wherever we are and wherever we struggle. Secondly, the presence here of Chilean refugees expelled from their country for the ‘crime’ of working for a new, democratic and socialist Chile. But we have learned so much from the Chileans: that politics and culture go hand in hand - if we can’t dance to it, it is not our Revolution!

The mural also symbolises the solidarity that Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, London, every city in Britain showed to Chilean refugees fleeing fascism and dictatorship. And this solidarity flows down through the generations, from those who were young in the 70s to the children of today. Gilberto’s daughter Tatiana, born here in Britain, came to paint with her 8 year old son Luca, who spent a weekend understanding a lot more about why his Grandad Gilberto is from Chile, and why he had to come to Leeds all those years ago. This continuity will be expressed on 16th-18th August 2019,  when the original three Chilean students, now all in their late 60s, and everyone who came to paint the cloth copy of the mural, will be part of the film premiere, a ceremony of unveiling and rededication – to our cause and to our joint endeavours.

This will take place at the Victor Jara festival El Sueño Existe in Machynlleth, West Wales – see here for all the details.

The mural is a visual representation of the hopes for a new Chile – and for a new world. Another world is possible – a better, greener future is possible for all workers, where there will be peace, justice, love and solidarity....




Read 444 times Last modified on Monday, 06 May 2019 06:20
Tim Hollins

Tim Hollins is a musician, educator and cultural activist.

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