Ever since I was a kid and my mum used to take me on trips into London to visit the museums (the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum was obviously my favourite) I have loved museums. So coming to Santiago I was not going to skip what they have.
Museo del Arte Precolumbino
I was walked to this museum by a nice, old Chilean man who was in the early stages of Alzheimers and was also just starting to learn English. Perhaps not a recipe for success, but he did prevent me from spending half an hour walking around the main square in Santiago!
The Museo del Arte Precolumbino has a collection of various artefacts from around South & Central America. ‘Precolumbino’ means before the arrival of Columbus to the continent in 1492. The museum isn’t very big; set over just 2 floors but it has a great variety of things on show including pottery, fabrics, jewellery, ceremonial objects and sculptures, which offered a little glimpse into what life was like back then. Some of the most interesting pieces for me personally were:
– The incredibly well-preserved large wooden Mapuche figures that watched over graves
– The Aztec abacus: A piece of rope with other pieces of rope tied to it with knots in different places and of different sizes. No one is exactly sure of how they were used to keep accounts but supposedly they were.
– The Chinchorro mummies that pre-date Egyptian ones!
– The vomit spatulas used by shamans in the Amazon before they took hallucinogenic drugs
But my favourite pieces were the cute pieces of pottery that had little faces on them! I think I’d like some replicas of those when I’m older, use them as a milk jug, gravy jug, anything really 🙂
What was really intriguing about the collection was that some of the sculptures had a definite Indian vibe to them. On top of that, there was a printed material in the Andean textiles area that featured a design still used for traditional Indian clothes today. I can’t decide if this was purely coincidence or if maybe somehow the cultures met and mixed?
Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos
The Museum of Human Rights probably isn’t on many tourists’ to-do lists when they arrive in Santiago but I would say that it’s definitely worth a visit. Aside from its important theme, the museum itself is extremely well put together with every display presented in a really interesting manner.
That being said, I did walk out of it feeling pretty depressed and with a large amount of hatred for parts of humanity. It covers Chile’s military dictatorship which took place between 1973 and 1990. The first display is a timeline of the events that took place on 11 September 1973 – the day of coup, and it really brings home just how quickly the life you know can be turned upside down. By early afternoon tanks were rolling through the city centre; the presidential palace had been bombed, President Allende had shot himself after bidding farewell to his supporters and TV and radio communication towers had been destroyed to ensure a government-controlled media.
In the months and years following the coup supporters of President Allende were rounded up and sent to detention camps or killed. General Pinochet was installed as the new Head of State and naturally had a new constitution ratified granting him power.
The museum is actually rather unbiased. I suppose there’s no real need to favour one side over another when the facts of the situation are both horrific and undeniable. One of the most chilling and haunting displays is a small space in which there is a metal, single-bed used by prisoners in detention camps. Above this there is a projection of videos from both torturers and victims talking about what they did/what they endured. It really sickened me. People hung up from the ceiling, naked and beaten until unconscious, and then when they awoke they received the same treatment again; prisoners strapped to their beds and electrocuted through it; put in baths and electrocuted.
There was a section on the opposition to Pinochet’s regime: the protests, the dissidents. In one video we see a parking attendant shoot a girl on the street in broad daylight; such was the power of the police then. Another news report talks of 2 young people who were beaten by the police then lit on fire.
The worst thing about learning about this is realising that it wasn’t actually that long ago. That even after WWII and all the atrocities that came to light after it, these things still continued and are continuing today.
Actually the worst thing is realising that despite the torture, execution, detention and expulsion of more than 40,000 people, there are still many people who support and love Pinochet in Chile today.
Conclusion: Horrifying but necessary to understand a bit more about Chile’s recent history.
Museo de Bellas Artes
Swiftly moving on to something more light-hearted! I was expecting the Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago to be a large complex filled with old, classical paintings. Instead I discovered that it was quite small, having just 5 wings with exhibitions that change every few months! When I went there was a great photography exhibition from Sergio Larrain with a collection of photos from the island of Chiloé (Chile), Peru and Bolivia, but what I loved the most were his photos from London and Paris in 159/1960. They were still wearing top-hats in London then! It all seems so quaint now, but it certainly made me miss England a bit. Somehow his photography managed to make cold, misty winter days in a bare-treed Hyde Park look ethereal and beautiful.
One of the other exhibitions was a super-fun one by a woman called Lorena Villablanca using an ancient technique called ‘xilografía’. Her work involves wood carving, using the wood as a canvas and carving out various shapes and figures then painting them in funky colours. My personal favourite was one that featured both a pink Dumbo and a lime green dinosaur – check the photos.
These are only a few of the museums that Santiago has to offer, but I’m hoping to manage to see a few more in my last few weeks in Santiago before I start travelling!!
PS. Yesterday I popped to the Museo Histórico Nacional and my opinion on it is that I wouldn’t bother going again. It featured a lot of bad paintings of Spanish and Chilean generals and then some other rather mediocre displays.