There will be work for all! The story of  a Chilean mural
Sunday, 26 May 2019 09:38

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

Published in Visual Arts

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

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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.

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....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.

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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.”

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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).

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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.

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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”.

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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....

…Y HABRA TRABAJO PARA TODOS

...A BYDD GWAITH I BAWB

...AND THERE WILL BE WORK FOR ALL!

Expresion Inca
Sunday, 26 May 2019 09:38

El Sueño Existe: The Dream Lives On

Published in Festivals/ Events

Tim Hollins introduces the Victor Jara Festival, El Sueño Existe

Deep in the heart of rural West Wales, in the pretty market town of Machynlleth, a quite extraordinary political/cultural festival “El Sueño Existe” (The Dream Lives On) keeps the spirit, the music and the politics of Victor Jara of Chile alive each summer. If you want a small scale summer festival combining politics and culture, this is it!

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Victor Jara mural, Chile: “Give us your strength and courage to struggle”, from the Victor Jara song, Manifiesto

Victor Jara, a member of the Chilean Communist Party, emerged as the iconic singer of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity Government of 1970-73. On a wave of optimism and enthusiasm Allende had been democratically elected, introducing far reaching reforms throughout society – nationalising the copper mines, land rights for the peasants, free healthcare and education for workers, popular art and culture and much more. It was all brutally ended on 11th September 1973 by the military coup, led by the fascist General Pinochet – and supported by the CIA and the US Government of Nixon and Kissinger.

Victor Jara’s sublime poetry and songs of the workers’ struggles, their joys and sorrows were heard throughout Chile, and after his brutal killing in the immediate aftermath of the coup, he quickly became a key voice in Latin America’s struggles for justice and socialism, in resistance to 500 years of oppression and genocide.

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Alejandro Reyes, contemporary of Victor Jara

Today the El Sueño Existe festival brings together for a magical weekend, not only Latin American singers, songwriters, exiles, bands, dancers, poets and painters, but also a great crowd of solidarity activists, journalists, academics, film makers, theatre groups, Welsh language activists and festival goers, in a wonderful melting pot. It is a happening on a grand scale, where you are just as likely to drop into a workshop debate on ‘AMLO’, the new progressive President of Mexico, or an Argentinian singer in a laid-back concert, a full-on dance set from Quimantu playing Chilean/fusion rhythms, a shaman taking you on a mind journey to the heart of the Amazon, or an academic demolition of Trump’s attempts to take imperialism back to white supremacy.

In short the festival is an eclectic and heady mix of all things political and cultural, and creates its own special energy through the hundreds who make it over the hills to Machynlleth. Each festival (entirely run by volunteers) chooses a Latin American country as a main focus, whilst promoting all cultures that seek a progressive way forward. In August 2019 the main country focus will be Mexico, from Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s astonishing art, via the missing & disappeared ‘43’ students to AMLO – Lopez Obrador, who has recently triumphed in elections. In the era of Trump, Brexit and all of the threats we all face, El Sueno Existe is an uplifting and magical experience.

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Tony Corden, festival director and self-confessed Victor Jara fan

As Chilean academic and activist, Dr. Francisco Dominguez from Middlesex University says:

In all my many years as an activist in Britain, I have found that one of the most beautiful gestures of commitment with Latin America’s struggles is the El Sueño Existe Festival in the depths of marvellous Wales. Organised to celebrate the worldview and music of Chilean singer, Victor Jara, to tell the world that his dream, our dream, of a better world goes on. El Sueño Existe is solidarity at its very best. Just get there, & you won’t be disappointed.

Victor Jara Festival - El Sueño Existe, August 16th-18th, Machynlleth, Wales SY20 8ER. All info & weekend tickets, (£50/£60 + camping £15, campervan - £25) available from the festival website

Thanks to Kevin Hayes for all images.

Cultural democracy: Revolt and Revolutions at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Sunday, 26 May 2019 09:38

Cultural democracy: Revolt and Revolutions at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Published in Visual Arts

Mike Quille reviews an involving, stimulating exhibition which encourages the growing appetite for cultural democracy.

The recent appointment of Elisabeth Murdoch to Arts Council England was yet more evidence of the increasing domination of public funding for the arts by corporate and right-wing interests.

There is growing resistance, however, among activists and artists. There are also signs that labour movement leaders are becoming more aware of the importance of cultural activities in the lives of their members – see for example Len McCluskey’s Introduction to the Bread and Roses 2017 Poetry Anthology.

The 2017 Labour manifesto also contained some progressive promises around devolving decision-making, increasing funding and boosting arts education in schools. It was a great improvement on previous manifestos, which had become more and more oriented towards art and culture as merely functional for economic regeneration.

It was flawed, though – see here for a cogent critique by Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt. Debates and discussions on the left are growing, and reports, articles and manifestos are being proposed, based on a much more radical approach to arts and culture. For example, see here for the result of discussions at the Momentum-organised The World Transformed festival in Brighton last September. Events are being planned around the country to present and consult on this manifesto, by the Movement for Cultural Democracy.

One of the features of this movement is a belief that the cultural struggle and the political struggle go hand in hand – that culture, as well as being entertaining and enjoyable, is essentially liberating in a political sense. Cultural activities are fundamentally social and equalising, asserting our common humanity against divisions of class, gender, race and other social divisions engendered by capitalism, especially its neoliberal variant. In this view, culture can inspire, support, and accompany radical change in the real world.

There is no better current example of this belief in the power of art to transform the world than the current ‘Revolt and Revolutions’ exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield. A variety of works, linked in various ways, showcase some of the strands of counter-cultural and anti-establishment movements of recent times, and invite us to join in.

At the entrance to the exhibition, The Internationale, as sung by the artist Susan Philipsz, is broadcast in the open air. It calls us in, resonating across the former coalfields and industrial heartlands of South Yorkshire. The faltering, saddened voice conveys both the sufferings endured by the northern working classes in the last fifty years, and their resilience and continuing determination to redress injustice through political action.

As we go inside the gallery, more music welcomes us. Ruth Ewan’s A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World is a selection of classics of political music and song, updated to include songs for the Trump era, which visitors can choose and listen to.

Resized Ruth Ewan A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World 2003 2017. Courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo Jonty Wilde D850167

Ruth Ewan, A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World, courtesy the artist and YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

Political music is also celebrated by two arpilleras, a kind of Chilean patchwork quilt, illustrating the key ideals of the New Chilean Song Movement. This was a powerful, persuasive cultural movement which accompanied and assisted the rise to power of Salvador Allende’s socialist government in 1970. One of its main supporters was the singer, guitarist and communist Victor Jara, later tortured and killed by the Pinochet regime. Pinochet’s admirers and allies included Margaret Thatcher, responsible for the privatisation of the local Yorkshire steel industry and the British state’s war against the miners and their socialist leaders, in 1984-5.

resized 2 Arpillera New Chilean Song 198083 unkown political prisoner Chile. Private Collection. Courtesy YSP. Photo Jonty Wilde D850171     YSP resized

Arpillera, New Chilean Song, 1980–83, unknown political prisoner, Chile, and an installation view including Helmet Head 1, Henry Moore, cast 1960. Courtesy YSP, photos © Jonty Wilde

Henry Moore was a socialist and the son of a miner, brought up in a household where meetings of the first miners’ union were held. His works have graced the Park for many years, and in this exhibition his bronze sculpture Helmet Head evokes the exterior toughness and interior vulnerability of hardworking, hard-up men and women.

Resized Revolt Revolutions installation view 2017. Arts Council Collection Southbank Centre London the artist. Courtesy YSP. Photo Jonty Wilde D850274

Revolt & Revolutions, installation view, 2017. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. Courtesy YSP. Photo © Jonty Wilde

There are many more artworks and a particularly vivid display of photographs expressing the punkish, counter-cultural spirit of the seventies. But the outstanding artwork is a 15 minute video of local resident Alison Catherall, still living in Castleford, birthplace of Henry Moore. It tells the story of the region over her lifetime, from the optimism and pride of the fifties and sixties to the Tories’ assault on the working class communities in the seventies, eighties and beyond, and her determination to crusade for a better life, a transformed world for young people through education, culture and heritage.

She tells her lifestory, from the optimism and pride when she was young in the fifties and sixties, to the Tories’ assault on local steelworking and mining communities in the seventies, eighties and beyond. Her voice rises and becomes impassioned as she talks about her continuing militant determination to crusade for a transformed world – a better life for young people through education, culture and heritage.

 

Resized Larry Achiampong and David Blandy FF Gaiden Legacy 2017 film still. Courtesy YSP and Castleford Heritage Trust 04

Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, FF Gaiden-Legacy, 2017 (film still). Courtesy YSP and Castleford Heritage Trust

This moving oral history of suffering and struggle is illustrated by film of a female avatar, taken from the video game Grand Auto Theft 5, striding through deserted pit galleries, up and down the hilly landscape, by day and by night and through all weathers. The local and particular story of suffering, endurance and resilience becomes universal, an artistic tribute to both local and global working class communities – particularly the experience and struggles of women to keep those communities alive.

This focus on art which comes from the experiences of the many, and is addressed to the many, is carried through not only in the curating of the exhibition – there are several exhibits inviting public participation – but in the events organised around it. For example, on February 20th, the evening of the UN Day for Social Justice, YSP are running a talk on ‘Do You Want to Change the World’ on the relevance of art and culture to the political transformation of society.

Helen Pheby is the senior curator at YSP responsible for the grounded, varied and interlinked themes running through this excellent exhibition. I asked her for some insights into her approach, to share with readers of Culture Matters. This is what she said:

'The inspiration for Revolt and Revolutions came from working with Henry Moore's family and foundation on a previous major exhibition and learning how radical he had been, not just as an artist, but also through his commitment to social justice.

I was conscious that we don't seem to be hearing much good news at the moment and wanted to share works by artists who are trying to make a difference, or who are giving a voice to people in our communities committed to positive change.

My hope was that this small show might be a catalyst, raise spirits and hopes a little, and suggest ways we can all have power. The public response has been very positive, with record visitor numbers in the gallery and people making pledges to make a difference. Our associated events, such as inviting people to change the world, are proving popular, suggesting a real appetite for people to get involved.

Helen’s hopes have surely been realised. By showing and promoting the power of art to change the world, through the exhibition itself and the activities, talks and discussions that run alongside it, Yorkshire Sculpture Park are encouraging the appetite for cultural democracy which is emerging from the labour movement.

Finally, Matt Abbott, the poet, has written this poem to accompany the exhibition. It's best listened to on the link, but here's the text as well:

Revolt and Revolutions

by Matt Abbott

Placard, pin badge, denim, leather.
Fist clenched tight at the end of your tether.
Minds in the margins all come together
the Revolution will not start itself.

When the turn of a phrase is the twist of a knife
and a movement swims at the tide of the strife,
a slingshot points at the status quo
the choir sings a resounding “NO!”:
change, is a product of protest.

Give a soapbox to a voice
that can’t be heard amongst the crowd.
There’s a rebel with a cause,
there’s a dream that’s not allowed.
There’s a sub-group that’s been silenced,
a door that’s slamming shut.
An establishment that works to keep you structured
in a rut.

Where optimism sits with solidarity and strength.
For justice and equality, we’ll go to any length.
Apathy is acceptance. Acceptance never improves.
So stand up, and be counted: we’ve got goalposts to move.

Grab a megaphone, and articulate your grievances.
Strum guitars, paint banners, leave writing on the wall…
In the shadows, is where you’ll find allegiances.
We might be tiny individuals, but together, we’re tall.

Give power to the vulnerable; a voice to the unheard.
Don’t allow the privileged to take the final word.
March longer, sing louder, fight for what is right.
Acclimatise to darkness, and you’ll never seek light.

Revolt, reject, and rejoice in your dreams.
Protest is always more potent than it seems.
Be it beret wearing ‘Ban the Bomb’ or mohawk wearing punk;
others pinched nostrils but we shouted when it stunk.

Revolt and Revolution: come and join the number.
because nothing serves injustice like society in slumber.
Music and colour. Peace signs and love.
There are far more below than there are sat above.

It takes an awful lot of raindrops to form a monsoon.
And this station has a glitch: it’s time to retune.
Do not succumb to victimhood, or silence, or stealth,
because the Revolution will not start itself.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, is open 10am till 5pm and the exhibition, which is on till 15 April, is free. You can also visit this exhibition at the same time.