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Act 2 – Colonial recursivity
Plaza de Armas – Colectivo MapsUrbe

Chapter 2 focuses on the Plaza de Armas, the main square in downtown Santiago. The site of the first Spanish settlement in Chile, the square is marked by colonial symbols and by an ideology of the ‘foundation’ of the Chilean nation that erases its indigenous and mestizo roots. Moving from an intense debate around the violent yet creative relationship between indigeneity and the city, the chapter plays with the overlapping of times and symbols. The central theme of both the visual and textual elaboration is the recursivity of colonisation, addressed by interrogating the materiality of monuments and landmarks in the square. More specifically, the chapter engages with both colonial symbols such as the statue to the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia and characteristic representations of neoliberal multiculturalism such as the monument in homage to indigenous people. These monumentalities are addressed here by drawing on creative and performative interventions realised in the square in 2018. At the end of the chapter, Scene 2 of Santiago Waria plays with the antagonistic images and imaginations of otherness in the space of the square; while the Interlude ‘From the Colony to the White City’ accompanies the reader to the next chapter/place: the upper-class district.


Roberto: Do you consider yourselves guests or foreigners in this space?

Rodrigo: Vicuña Mackenna wanted to turn Santiago into Paris; you only have to think about that! I feel that this part of the city is not habitable; it is only for transit, especially for those of us who come from outside the city.

Coco: I would not want to make the Plaza de Armas Mapuche. I would remove the kultxun from it.1

Roberto: Would you take it off? Completely off the map or …?

Coco: This is a meeting space for Latin Americans perhaps,2 but I believe that in the waria there are other spaces that we should make Mapuche …

Nicolás: This discussion of being a civilised, modern country is in dispute today. It is becoming more diverse, more morena (black, dark, or of colour). It is constantly disputed from a spatial point of view.

Dania: It is becoming more racially diverse not because this is something someone wants, but as something that it is simply happening for different reasons. It is like an irruption that is not only Chilean but from everywhere.

Coco: It is becoming more morena maybe, but it is not becoming more Mapuche.

Nicolás: This civilising and ordering idea makes me sick because, in reality, they came to disorder something that was already constituted here. So, what we see is that this emerging morenidad is emerging simply because the straitjacket embedded in the architecture is breaking. This is a very Western urban space that eventually crumbles: it has cracks. The straitjacket has cracks and everything that is hidden comes out.

Claudio: Now, I think so. It is becoming less white, and although it is not permanently Mapuche, there are momentary irruptions with Mapuche demonstrations in the Plaza de Armas, such as the time they took over the church after a hunger strike that lasted many days in 2007, moments that later vanish. These are metaphorical spaces; just like a metaphor that is only that, something that then vanishes. So, of course, it is becoming darker, morena, blacker, but not necessarily more Mapuche. Even though the Mapuche do have a disruptive presence, let’s say in terms of protest in that space, it is momentary.3

Coco: It would be interesting to know the reason why our ancestors chose the Quinta Normal in particular. Perhaps because it was close to the Central Station, or because the Plaza de Armas was hostile to them.

Roberto: Is this square comfortable?

Coco: Perhaps it is also a racial issue from that time. Perhaps our ancestors came with their clothes and maybe they were looked down in the Plaza de Armas, I don’t know.

Cynthia: I remember my grandmother telling me that in the past, the Plaza de Armas was somewhere posh where one could find the best shops. She spoke about it as something very distant.

Olivia: I notice how nobody mentions anything personal concerning the square. It feels very far from your own daily experience compared to what we talked about in the morning, which was a much more intimate conversation about connections to the city. Perhaps the urban spaces that you have as a reference have nothing to do with the Plaza de Armas?

Marcela: There is a distance from the Plaza de Armas … I think most of us come from more peripheral places, so coming to the city centre was like ‘going to Santiago’. At least from Maipú, it was like ‘hey, let’s go to Santiago’ and it was half of the day to just travel here and go back there.

Roberto: Older people still say that.

Marcela: Of course, my grandmother still says ‘I am going to go to Santiago’ like it was a parallel city for the people who live in the periphery. The city itself is articulated like this. That is, the country is already centralised and the city itself is centralised, with peripheries having their own little centres with similar shopping centres, squares, and everything. So, that’s why it’s like such a distant space, something foreign.

It was 1818 when Bernardo O’Higgins, ‘the father’ of the Chilean republic, claimed ‘we are all Chileans’. After 1823, he stated that it was key for state policy to eliminate the so-called pueblos de indios, assimilating the indigenous population into the recently founded republic.4 It was not only O’Higgins. Pinochet also used to say: ‘We are all Chileans.’ We belong to a nation that was born from the fierce resistance of Araucanians to the Spanish Crown, and forged into a unique race and culture – except for a few ‘unruly’ Indians living in the rural Araucanía region and agitated by Communists. When democracy was (partially) restored,5 in the wake of neoliberal multiculturalism, indigenous people acquired some kind of visibility as part of the nation, as long as it was limited to the ‘cultural’ realm and they were not ‘too different’, or that Chilean identity would not be scrutinised any further. Neither should its whiteness be called into question nor the racial dynamics underlying Chilean society exposed.6 And if indigeneity absolutely had to be discussed, then it would be confined to the south, and would have nothing to do with the national capital. The clashes and conflicts characterising the metropolitan territory should just be forgotten, as if the Mapocho valley only became a place when Captain Pedro de Valdivia first set foot in it.

The Plaza de Armas is the materialisation of this national narrative and its unresolved tensions. It is a key landmark in national memory, the very place where the city of Santiago had its origins in the sixteenth century when the first settlement was founded. As commemorated by the ‘kilometre zero’ mark in the centre of the square, it is where ‘Chileanness’ begun, in the very first landmark from which colonial urbanism subsequently expanded the typical checkerboard layout of Spanish architecture. As noted by Setha Low in her analysis of two plazas in Costa Rica, these are ‘spatial representations of Latin American society and social hierarchy’ (2000: 33). The author notices how the plaza is an arena for both social encounters and the reproduction of hierarchical structures, in which power and the (partial) possibilities of subversive social interactions take place at the same time. Yet, from a Mapuche point of view, as emerged in the dialogue reported above, this conflicted space – questioned and critically addressed, sometimes defied and revealed in its contradictions and violence – ends up being inhabitable, as we will see in what follows.

At present, the square is surrounded by the Cathedral and the National History Museum, the Central Post Office, now a museum, and the former house of Pedro de Valdivia. The first National Government Junta was held in the square, at the beginning of republican independence. Yet, these memories cohabit the site together with the celebration of colonial times through the prestigious monument to Pedro de Valdivia, as curiously, in Chile – and probably more broadly in the Americas – whoever conquers also founds. Times and spaces before the colonising event are simply erased; just as how he was eventually captured and executed by the indigenous forces fighting against the colonisation is also erased in the commemoration of the Captain on his steed making his way through the Mapocho Valley. Undoubtedly, this historical event continues to mark the unresolved relationship between white elites and Mapuche society to this day, and monumentalising Valdivia is an act in the ongoing battle between remembering and forgetting.

This struggle of memories is embedded in the Plaza de Armas, from the first incursions of the Spanish Empire into these lands to the foundation of the Chilean republic, and from the 1980s with Pinochet’s brutal ‘modernisation’ of the country (the glass building in the south-eastern corner of the square) to the most recent frictions and mobilities. Today, the square is inhabited mostly by Peruvian, Haitian, Colombian, and Venezuelan migrants, and visited by international tourists, street vendors, and artists, as well as Mormons giving sermons, and chess players.

As such, this site is perhaps the densest cluster of time in the country. If we consider Karl Schlögel’s statement that ‘in space, we read time’ (2007), we could say that from that square at the core of the capital, it is possible to read the many layers constituting the national history. Urban planners are fully aware of the temporal depth of the plaza, and they have built a heritage landscape displaying national memory and for the use and consumption of tourists. In this exercise, only the times of the official account have remained evident, obscuring the violence behind a patrimonial narrative that glorifies conquerors and republican elites and materialise the narrative of the whitewashed nation, against which other bodies and histories only ephemerally stand. The Plaza de Armas thus represents the most evident expression of the ‘colonial weight’ in the metropolitan city. And yet a juxtaposition of temporalities settles in the spatialities of the city centre, shaping a socially meaningful place (Low 2000) where various historical horizons can be observed: colonisation and conquest; neoclassical and republican architecture; modern and postmodern buildings; contemporary heritage tourism; current Latin American and Caribbean migrations. It is a complex and contradictory landscape that reveals the baroque style of the city of Santiago.7

The workshop in the Plaza de Armas was held in a space facilitated by the National History Museum. The room, poorly lit and smelling of antiques, was the perfect intimate place for our opening conversation, centred on each participant’s biographical trajectory and relationship with the city, as that was the first workshop of the entire project. Each participant introduced themselves through ‘biographical objects’ they had been asked to bring along, in striking contrast with the objects comprising the museum collections: a helmet, some glasses, a college tie, salt and pepper shakers from Dubai, some cameras, a bombilla, a marijuana grinder, a pifilka, a maid’s apron, a music pentagram, baby shoes, a book, some letters, some photographs, and a poem were placed on the big, heavy wooden table in the middle of the room.

After this first round of presentations, we began examining and engaging with the specific site of our location: the ‘ground zero’ of colonial history. The square was addressed in the material history of its development and architecture, and immediately after a preliminary discussion, we went out to walk it through. Drawing on site-specific performative methods, Roberto posed certain questions we could walk with: Who am I and what am I doing in this space? What are the conditions of my access? Am I here because I am invited, or am I invading? Is this place familiar? What are the circumstances of my presence here? Am I a foreigner or do I inhabit this place? Am I visible or invisible? Will any trace/register of my presence be left/taken?8

Our interventions ‘in situ’ ended up being precisely about interrogating the square; thinking while acting, the aim was to generate reflections without separating the interpretative from the performative moment. Starting from the general interrogatives posed by Roberto, additional sensory questions arose. What do we feel in this space? What can we see? What do we imagine being here? What memories emerge? What can we do, or cannot do, in the square? Questioning and questioned by these interrogatives, we walked through the ‘colonial zero point’ and touched its walls, observed the ground, placed our eyes on the patrimonial landscape, read the plaques of the monuments and the sculptures, sat down to look around, acted, were interrupted and wondered. Some of us learned when the buildings were built and renovations were made. Others realised interventions, individually or in small groups, ranging from photography to performance to writing, addressing monuments and landmarks in the square through the use of posters and handcrafted figures. Eventually, the police intervened, asking what we were doing in the usual intimidating way and registering Roberto’s, Claudio’s, and Olivia’s names. After all that, we went back into the dark museum room to draw some minimal conclusions, sharing the estranged familiarity and everyday violence which the place had transmitted to us.

Engaging with the material expression of the recursivity of coloniality, we felt how – if only briefly and provisionally – we had lay bare its temporal and spatial horizon, opening up that long memory in the capital of the country, and exposing its cracks and fissures in the present. The Plaza de Armas’ smooth narrative was questioned by the biographical objects later collected in the ‘Museo Waria che’ installation: they unveiled another history, challenging with other materialities – smaller or simpler ones, belonging to everyday common objects – the monumentality of the square.

The scene of Santiago Waria later set in the square, featuring a dialogue between a Mapuche guide giving decolonial tours of the site and an upper-class passerby questioning his account, is built on these objects and the (in)visible stories they entail, the struggles for memory, and the possibility of an ephemeral intervention within the multi-layered history of the site. The protagonists of the scene are a Mapuche historian leading a guided tour (to the play’s audience), and Doña Inés, who interrupts and contests the tour. The character of Doña Inés is introduced unexpectedly into the scene, as if she really was just an old lady passing by, overhearing the guide and feeling the need to contest what he was saying. By playing with the fine line between fiction and ‘reality’, onstage and offstage, the audience is left bewildered in order to provoke an estrangement aimed at interrogating implicit assumptions about race, whiteness and the historical power relations characterising everyday life in Santiago city centre.

As it goes, the construction of the scene was inspired by two real events during the research process; namely, the encounter with two ladies during another performative intervention realised in the upper-class area of Providencia (which is addressed in greater depth in the next chapter) and an episode experienced by a member of the group during a visit with university students to the Plaza de Armas, where she, the group’s guide, was interrupted by a woman criticising her ‘ideological’ vision of history. The two episodes were cast and dramatised as a unique moment in the play,9 re-enacted by Doña Inés, whose name was inspired by the infamous lover of Pedro de Valdivia, Inés de Suárez (see Interlude 1).10 In the performative staging of the outlined ethnographic episodes, Doña Inés personifies the connection between colonial and postcolonial times, not allowing any smooth narrative about the ‘Chilean race’, its whiteness and modernity. By engaging the monumental landscape of Santiago city centre, the ambiguity of this narrative is questioned. Even if ephemerally, it is exposed and challenged by performing bodies.


When Olivia, Claudio and Roberto went to buy what was needed for the first workshop, they found themselves rifling through stationery and textile stores in downtown Santiago. Calle Santa Rosa is full of small and larger shops selling anything one could imagine in the area of crafts, textiles, and paper. On entering one of these monothematic and extremely varied shops, they found two ‘neutral masks’ used in theatre, and especially in mime, staring at them with their empty eyes. At first, they were not sure about having the masks among the materials; in a quite problematic way, their ‘neutrality’ was claimed through whiteness and European facial traits. However, this tension was the very reason for which they ended up buying them, albeit with some hesitation. The ‘neutral’ whiteness of the masks was eventually appropriated as something to overwrite, as quite literally happened with both masks. The fate of one of them is elaborated on here, while the other one is addressed in the following section.

During the Plaza de Armas workshop, Dania picked up one of the masks and some black, white, green, and red textiles. She made a dress that was halfway between the traditional dress of a Mapuche woman and the proud and popular presidential sash, and that was an open mimicry of both. The ‘indigeneity’ of the dress was rather vague and opaque, like a distant ancestor belonging to many generations ago.11 In her black dress, Dania climbed the statue of Pedro de Valdivia and lay down beneath it, the white mask on her face and a long multicoloured fabric braid coming down her shoulders and tying her tightly to the Captain’s horse. The performance starts when the mime wakes up, disoriented, from beneath the horse’s legs. She is frightened and tries to escape, held back by her braid attached to Pedro de Valdivia. She pulls and pulls until she breaks it. She runs toward the cathedral, opposite the monument. She stops halfway, right in front of the historical post office building. She sits on the ground among the crowd of passersby, lost and trying to orient herself in a world she doesn’t know or belong to. She then starts walking again, before breaking into a run. She reaches the cathedral and finds a spot in front of it to kneel and pray like a penitent. Pedro de Valdivia is behind her, but she is in the exact line of his sight, pointing at the cathedral. She crawls on the ground, hugs her knees and then frantically starts colouring her face/mask with markers of different colours until the mask is no longer white, but variegated and scribbled on. At that point, she takes it off, and undresses down to her own clothes. She slowly looks at the mask, then throws it to the ground and tramples on it with rage. Suddenly, she searches for her phone in her bag, answers it, and starts chatting and laughing hysterically. Still on her phone, she passes the people that had spontaneously gathered around her performance and disappears into the crowd. The mask lies behind, on the ground in front of the cathedral.

The neutrality of whiteness is questioned here. The mask awakens in the colony, and through her walking and running towards the cathedral, ends up in the twenty-first century, where and when colours have already mixed, blended and been trampled on. Dania’s body – the body of the performer, for performance has no actors, only individuals staging their bodies and selves – emerges when she pulls off the costume which she was wearing; it is that of the ‘white mestiza’ of dominant Chilean racial discourses (see Introduction). In the tension between Dania’s body and Pedro de Valdivia’s statue, in her attachment and rage towards the white mask, is the fracture generated by colonial history and its recursivity. Reproduced in the spatiality of the city, this fracture is what shapes the relationship between bodies inhabiting the urban space, or between bodies and the city’s materialities, giving place to certain memories while obliterating others. We have already addressed this in the previous chapter when analysing the urban policies implemented by Vicuña Mackenna. When he created the sanitary barrier to protect the ‘proper’ city from the peripheries that he referred to as the ‘infected Cairo’, he gestured against both ‘the Indians’ and ‘Indianness’, as well as against the mestizo emerging from the indigenous world. That idea of miscegenation resulted in a century in which it was forbidden to be called, or call oneself, Mapuche, Quechua, Aymara or Diaguita. This entanglement of memory and forgetting is especially significant in the materiality of Santiago city centre and the imaginaries it triggers; indigeneity is concealed, or only partially – in every meaning of the word – depicted and represented.

Dania’s performance played with these images, with the ambiguity of whiteness and the absent presence of indigenous ancestry; the overwriting of an inherited ‘white mask’ with different colours, and yet constituting something to get rid of altogether, crushing both the mask and the gesture of appropriating it in the name of neoliberal individual identities. These staged dynamics are entangled with power relations, the possibilities of and conditions for agency and oppression, and the images and representations that are or are not allowed a public presence. It transpired that only a few moments after the end of this performance, when another group of participants was addressing the same monument – this time with questions written on a poster – the police (carabineros) interrupted the scene. Clearly, the square is constantly guarded, and the monument to the conqueror even more so. In just a few minutes, the forces of law and order were present and forced us to stop our performative investigation. From being invisible, the monument’s shield became quickly apparent; we, with small gestures, revealed the contradictory defence of colonial symbols that emerged in the official account of the metropolis.

– What the hell are you doing here? Do you know that this is a national heritage site?

– This is a research project. We are investigating …

– Is this a political demonstration?

– No. Actually, this is a research project …

– Do you have permits for a political demonstration?

– Well, no, but this is not …

– You know that you need permits for a political demonstration.

People gathered around our nonsensical discussion. They formed a semicircle, just like they did moments before when Dania was performing. And just like moments before, it was not entirely clear what was going on, who we were, what we were doing, why, and the relationship between each other’s masks: them (the police), us (the performers), the public, all part of the same staging. By interrupting the performance, the police transformed it into a social act. Colours and belonging got scribbled the same way as the white mask did, and the them-and-us dynamic turned out to be even more problematic than the initial dialectic we fell into when we looked at the name of the captain – the policeman, not Pedro de Valdivia – and read on his jacket ‘Millán’, an unmistakably Mapuche surname.12 Other characters suddenly appear as if in a fantasy tale, such as the carabinero Walter Ramírez who killed Matías Catrileo Quezada by shooting him in the back with a shotgun during a land occupation on 3 January 2008, and was raised by a Mapuche family in an indigenous community not so far from where the death occurred. Matías Catrileo Quezada was born and raised in Santiago in a mixed indigenous and mestizo family and went back south during his university years, actively participating in land recuperation with the Mapuche community surrounding Temuco.13

Whiteness, power and oppression are never straightforward. The Plaza de Armas, as Coco said more than once that day, could probably never be Mapuche. On the contrary, it does to the Mapuche identity (or to indigeneity) what it did to the palm trees: it cuts their roots because the metro needs to pass underneath. Yet, what we did that day was to lay it bare: the palm trees, the metro underneath, the ways they are related and the frictions and cracks in between. The relationship is multi-faceted and problematic, like Dania’s use of the white mask. Although she subverted its neutrality with her performative gesture, she was not entirely able to escape the homogenising character of the mask, somehow reproducing the very same obliteration of indigenous history perpetuated by the Captain’s statue. As noted by some of the participants during the collective discussion on the second day, especially in the first part of the performance when she ‘wakes up’ underneath Valdivia’s horse and finds herself struggling to escape, she is caught up in the very same imaginary reproduced by the monument. Considering the long war between the Spanish and the Mapuche, her performance was probably too much into the ‘victim’ narrative, especially since the Captain’s life was ended at the hands of those he sought to subdue. Nonetheless, it was probably for this precise reason that Dania’s performance was dramatisation and enactment, and at the same time embodiment, of the ties that the colonial history still holds, revealing that unresolved tension that has been called ‘decolonisation’; should we think of and act on a ‘decolonisation’ as a going back to the pre-colonial, or is it rather about finding new and creative ways of carrying the weight of 500-year-old open wounds?


With the events beginning in October 2019, the recent history of Chile took an unforeseen turn with unprecedented social unrest in which many monuments were intervened through creative and political acts, or demolished, and the statue of Pedro de Valdivia in the Plaza de Armas was no exception. During the days of demonstration, multiple battles for the urban space and various struggles for history unfolded. While today, during the pandemic, the government has sought to reconstruct the official historical narrative embedded in the city ‘normality’, processes of de-monumentalisation are still ongoing, inhabiting the urban landscape through the traces left by recent political upheaval. These tensions have always been part of Santiago’s material spatialities, and especially of the square that is the focus of this chapter.

It would thus be fitting to return to it and to analyse some more of the material and symbolic layers of its history. At Valdivia’s feet, there is a bronze bas-relief. It might seem insignificant at first, just one among the three cartographic representations of Santiago which are engraved on the grounds of the plaza. Nonetheless, that particular representation points to a fork in history that is impossible to overlook, for the drawing was made by Guamán Poma de Ayala at the beginning of the seventeenth century during the height of Spanish colonialism. Guamán Poma was an indigenous chronicler, and probably one of the first ‘anticolonial thinkers’ in Latin America, according to the Bolivian and Aymara scholar Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui. Through his drawings and writings, he was able to capture the knowledge and feelings of the natives towards the colonial enterprise. Guamán Poma’s book, Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno, was originally published in 1615 and had been lost for centuries, only to be rediscovered at the beginning of the twentieth century. That volume includes the representation of the city of Santiago reproduced at the feet of Valdivia the Conqueror. It is the oldest known visual representation of the city. Curiously enough, the drawing shows a village protected by walls, even if there is neither archaeological evidence nor historical traces of walls ever surrounding Santiago. It might well be that the wall represented the palisade of the first settlement; or, the drawing of a city with walls might also be a silent critique of colonial power, a way of exposing the segregating boundaries of what would later become the current metropolis.

For monuments to generate a ‘regime of visibility’ (Rancière 2004), they build a space to be seen and from there they impact the arrangements of bodies and subjectivities. At the same time: ‘the monument, as a monumentalised fact, constitutes the celebration of power, of being able to have the power to monumentalize’ (Achugar 1995: 155). Regimes of visibility establish hierarchies of power between bodies, and the transits in the city both embody and emanate from these naturalised hierarchies, engraved onto the skin as a result of daily life. The ‘colonial continuity’ feels almost weightless, precisely for its naturalisation in the public space until a change in the daily scenography reveals the tensions underneath. These tensions are (silently) engraved into the colonial zero point, marking the monumentality of the square and its objects.

This is even more apparent when observing the corner of the square opposite the one where the statue of Pedro de Valdivia stands. The Monumento a los Pueblos Indígenas (Monument to the Indigenous People) by the Chilean sculpture Enrique Villalobos was inaugurated in 1992. Made of concrete and granite, the 8-metre tall monument depicts a sprouting seed arising from the earth and an indigenous head. The sculpture was probably created as a result of the impact made by indigenous demonstrations in the 1990s, somehow obliging a gesture recognising the presence of indigenous people in the country, albeit a problematic one. While intending to pay homage, the sculpture ends up producing a strange effect. The head, hanging and fragmented, is far less sublime than its counterpart, the Captain. As it is placed in a space built around references to the colonial power, the head cannot avoid an almost immediate parallel with a very specific episode of Mapuche history, namely, the hanging in the Plaza de Armas itself of the head of Leftraru (in Spanish Lautaro), the famous Mapuche military leader who was defeated and captured after killing Pedro de Valdivia.

Knowing the history, it is almost impossible not to make the connection with Leftraru and many other Mapuche military leaders whose heads were hung in the square as sinister proof of the hegemony of Spanish rule. Whether this was an explicit reference or a ‘simple forgetting’, an analogy that passed unnoticed, or a mere coincidence (or not?), this head of stone is unavoidably marked by the violent history it evokes. For not only in this very square were the slaughtered heads of Mapuche authorities usually displayed following their defeat, this was how the Spanish demonstrated their power to the indigenous people inhabiting what is now Santiago. Two opposite corners of the plaza with the greatest historical weight in the country sculpturally sediment how official accounts have been solidified, clearly showing the brutal primacy of white men over indigenous lives. A historical weight that does not lighten, and a past that does not actually pass. It seems that the founding event which occurred more than 500 years ago, precisely in the Plaza de Armas, still tirelessly inhabits it as subjection and insurmountable conflict. The centuries of colonisation still haunt us in republican Chile, inhabiting the historical and territorial ‘ground zero’ of the country. As an additional layer, the declared romantic intention of the monument conveys the ambiguities and contradictions of Chilean neoliberal multiculturalism; representing through the seed an ‘indigenous re-birth’ as a homage from the Chilean state to its indigenous roots, the same state does not recognise indigenous people in the Constitution, and denies collective rights and processes of self-determination and territorial autonomy to indigenous communities.14 At the same time, the monument was and is still used as a meeting point for the indigenous movement, a site for protest and manifestation, turning into a reference point for political practices within the city and once again materialising the complexities of the relationship between the Mapuche and the Chilean state.

Seeking to unveil the contradictions embedded in the hanging head of stone, some of us decided to address the monument during the workshop in the Plaza de Armas by crafting ‘the head of Leftraru’. The second ‘neutral’ mask was employed to represent Leftraru’s head, coloured and completed with long black hair made of wool with a red band on the forehead, and pierced by a spear. The ‘head of Leftraru’ was placed on the top of the monument. With Leftraru’s head hanging in the Plaza de Armas right atop the petrified homage of neoliberal times, a kind of mirror effect was produced. By positioning violence directly and explicitly at the centre of the smooth monumental space of the national capital, the colonial past and the postcolonial present were suddenly facing each other. The ‘indio insurrecto15 was claimed and placed on top of the ‘indio permitido’ (see Hale 2004). Both were faces without bodies and masks with hollows instead of eyes.

When the workshop ended later that day, Leftraru’s head was left on the anonymous head in the square. No one thought of it until a few days later, when we discovered that a friend named Martín Llancaman (who later joined us in the MapsUrbe project but was not yet participating in it) had had a troubling encounter with the mask. The same evening, after our workshop, he was walking through the square. When he passed the monument, he suddenly saw the mask on top of it. Not knowing about our activity of that afternoon, he became really upset. He could not believe that someone would make fun of the indigenous past in this way or, even worse, would incite the hanging of Mapuche!

What was intended as a gesture exposing what lay underneath the smooth surface of the Plaza de Armas by unveiling a violent past and claiming its visibility in the very heart of the city centre, he perceived as yet more violence. The past was suddenly present as a threat. The well-known words of Walter Benjamin in his Theses on the Philosophy of History (VI, 1942) come to mind: ‘not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.’16 Martín was not unmoved and, in his rage, he climbed up onto the statue, grabbed the mask, removed the spear from Leftraru’s head, and broke it. He then threw away the broken spear but kept the mask, bringing it to the headquarters of a historical Mapuche organisation in Santiago on the other side of the city. A few days later, when the photos of our workshop were uploaded on Facebook, Martín found out about the project and eventually joined. He is now among the authors of this book, in what might even sound like a happy ending. However, the symbolic perception of the mask bought in that shop in Santa Rosa went, once again, far beyond that of its original white neutrality.

This object is many things at the same time: a mask, painted by hand, with woollen strings glued to it to imitate hairs, with a spear of wood and cartooon stuck to it; a ‘memory work’ (Fabian 2003); and the gesture of carving out the meanings embedded in the materiality of Santiago’s colonial square. It is a reminder of subjugating violence. Yet it is also a claim of agency and subversion drawing together rage, desire and hope. Leftraru’s mask is not simply an object, but an artefact that becomes meaningful in being emplaced, at first in the Plaza de Armas, and afterwards, once rescued, in Martín’s hands, and finally left with the Mapuche organisation on the outskirts of Santiago. It is precisely the fact that Martín saw the mask hanging in the Plaza de Armas that made him think about violence, connecting it with both the colonial past and the postcolonial present, equally marked by domination and abuse. His gesture of taking down the mask and intervening in this space of violence is somehow symmetrical with our gesture of placing it on the top of the monument; it defies the narrative of official history and its subjectivising power, scratching the surface of the city’s materiality. When it irrupts into this landscape, the indigenous counter-narrative does so in an ephemeral way. It does not last, somehow failing to counteract the monumentality of national memory. Nonetheless, it still intervenes in it; just like Mapuche political gatherings in front of the ‘Indian’s head’; just like a biographical object claiming personal stories and partial family memories against the politics of oblivion.

Plaza de Armas

From the Colony to the White City21

1 Coco is pointing at a map of the Plaza de Armas that was previously hung on the wall, and on which someone else had stuck an image of the kultxun, as a form of intervening its colonial space.
2 Coco refers to the socially heterogeneous and multicultural character of the square, where migrants (especially Peruvians and Haitians) coexist with evangelicals preaching and peddlers selling to foreign tourists.
3 The Plaza de Armas is one of the sites where Mapuche demonstrations have taken place since the early 1990s. For a discussion of urban indigenous and metaphorical spaces, see Alvarado Lincopi (2021).
4 Since the beginning of the Spanish Conquista in Chile, in the north of the country indigenous people were reduced in structured settlements linked to the institution of the encomienda. Indigenous populations were transferred from their villages to the places where the encomendero needed labour, ending up living in estancias and haciendas, and Indian towns (pueblos de indios) were established. O’Higgins, the hero of Chilean Independence, was one of the military and intellectual leaders liberating Chile from the Spanish rule, and Chile’s second Supreme Director from 1817 until 1823.
5 The Concertación, a broad coalition of parties, finally defied Pinochet in 1989, thus ending the civil-military dictatorship. Especially during the 1990s, the restoration of democracy was a slow process of negotiation with the military, marking important continuities with the policies of the previous regime (see Introduction). The ‘incompleteness’ of democracy was significantly expressed by the first democratically elected president, Patricio Aylwin, claiming ‘truth and justice to the extent of the possible’, a phrase that remained iconic in Chile. This is apparent when one thinks of how democracy was built on the foundations of the 1980s Constitution promulgated by Pinochet, unchanged until the very recent Constitutional process.
6 Elizabeth Povinelli’s analysis resonates here in highlighting how the policies of contemporary multiculturalism are aimed at allowing a certain kind of difference, albeit only to a certain extent, usually giving space to ‘cultural’ and ‘traditional’ demonstrations while at the same time denying political rights (see Povinelli 2002).
7 We mean ‘baroque style’ as developed in the analysis of Bolivar Echeverría (2013, 2019). The use of this concept is elaborated further in Chapter 4.
8 Roberto adapted the methodological questions proposed in Pearson (2010).
9 It is worth mentioning that the second part of the monologue of Doña Inés is the literal transposition of the words of one of the ladies we encountered in Providencia.
10 A marginal and controversial figure in the square and in Chilean history, representations of Inés de Suárez are caught between the brutality of her gesture, her ambiguous role as Valdivia’s lover, and her defence of Santiago. Unacknowledged in the square’s monumentality, her absence is another of the frequent ‘forgetting’ embedded in the square.
11 Dania is a professional performer and theatre actress. This performance has previously been discussed in Casagrande, Alvarado Lincopi (2022).
12 The surname is a pseudonym.
13 Olivia’s presence, as a European researcher, certainly played an active role in the episode, contributing to shape the racial and power relations at stake, along with their frictions, interplay and entanglements.
14 See Antielo (2008); Richards (2013). This is hopefully undergoing important changes thanks to the ongoing process of rewriting the Constitution.
15 Or the ‘indio terrorista’ as noted by Patricia Richards in reference to the application of the Antiterrorism Law to indigenous leaders and activists in Chile since 2002 (Richards 2010).
16 Our translation, we are here referring to the Spanish version of the volume, see Benjamin (2008 [1942]).
17 The sculptor has the same surname as the Chilean historian Sergio Villalobos, known for his negative and racist depiction of the Mapuche.
18 The performance audios can be accessed on the website page for this section corresponding to Track 5: https://www.mapsurbe.com/eng-santiago-waria.
19 For this and the following historical details about Pedro de Valdivia statue, see Díaz (2015).
20 At first, the audience did not understand that she was also a performer, and the performers played along with this misunderstanding. During one of the representations, Roberto had to intervene because one member of the audience got very upset with the interruption and started arguing with Doña Inés, not letting her go on with the representation. It is probably worth reminding here that Doña Inés monologue was an adaptation of a real speech of an upper-class woman we encountered during the research process.
21 The performance audios can be accessed on the website page, with those for this section corresponding to Track 6: https://www.mapsurbe.com/eng-santiago-waria.
22 The first two letters are part of the documentary Santiago: pueblo grande de Huincas by Rony Goldschmied (1987), to which the title of the theatre piece makes explicit reference. Another letter is included in the next Interlude. The third letter in this section was drafted from different personal experiences of the performers and members of Colectivo MapsUrbe. It was then read by the Comandante Boliviano, and recorded as part of the play audios.
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Performing the jumbled city

Subversive aesthetics and anticolonial indigeneity in Santiago de Chile


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