by Larissa Payne
“I want to inform people that there was another September 11 also linked to the United States,” says Chilean-Australian artist Miriam Cabello. “I want to talk about conflict as a cross-cultural exchange for Australians, especially with what’s happening in Syria.”
Ms Cabello’s artworks at the Seymour Centre in September marked the 40th anniversary of the CIA-backed military coup in Chile. Led by General Augusto Pinochet, the coup dismantled Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government bringing an end to 100 years of Chilean democracy, the longest running democratic tradition in South America.
Miriam Cabello uses a bold, confronting technique in her artwork through contrasting colour and her trademark grid-drip pattern.
“I developed the grid-drip technique to represent the people who were locked up; also the dripping of blood or tears. It’s like a whitewash of bleach. When they bleach out history, they whitewash it. They don’t expose it,” she says.
The paintings insist that viewers look and respond while creating a voice for the silenced.
“Systematic torture, incarceration and murdering people caused much fear so many people won’t speak out,” says Ms Cabello.
The exhibition’s focal point is the large ‘Tanks of Terror’ series. Soldiers ready to betray Allende and switch sides to coup leader Pinochet, are depicted.
Paintings of the artist’s family are juxtaposed with these tanks of terror.
“My uncle was trained to go into La Moneda that day. I’ve not been able to ask questions about it. That’s why the images are important,” Ms Cabello says. “The colours are intentional. Red stands for blood spilled for independence but also blood spilled by the military killing their own people.
“My father is in red as a warning of what is to come. My mother has blue for mourning and sorrow. They’re divided to symbolise the separation and division of people that went missing.”
Erika Roa, daughter of Chilean exiles now living in Sydney’s west, found the artworks confronting.
“I was brought to tears. The art is a reminder of what my parents escaped and what much of my family put up with for 17 years.”
Ms Cabello believes the exhibition is an awakening for non-Chileans, too.
“They ask me, ‘How did I not know? Thank you for letting me know’.”
Daniel Peters, a lawyer visiting Sydney from Melbourne, had heard of Pinochet’s dictatorship but was unaware of the impact it had on Chilean people.
“I remember a uni classmate mentioning that his parents had escaped Chile in the 1970s. I had no idea the extent of human rights abuse or that so many Chileans fled to Australia. This exhibition has taught me a lot.”
According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 18,740 Chileans voluntarily or forcibly left Chile for a new life in Australia between 1973 and 1981. The 2006 Australian Census found that 25,439 Australians claimed Chilean ancestry. Such numbers make Cabello’s exhibition especially relevant.
A second stage of the exhibition is tentatively booked for July 2014.
“I want it to be bigger and better,” Miriam Cabello says. “I want to incorporate music, poetry and footage. I want it to create an emotional experience that engages all the senses.”
The second stage of her cross-cultural exchange will continue a universal message.
“It’s something that can encourage us to preserve our rights and freedoms. But sometimes that’s out of our hands.”
‘Oppression and Diaspora: The Chilean Military Coup’ was exhibited at the Seymour Centre as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival from September 6 – 29.