IN PROGRESS

Symbols of Resistance: A Chilean Legacy of Artists under Pinochet

A book. Chilean artists remember their lives and strategies during 17 years of military rule

The NO Vote, October 5, 1988

Arpillera (1978), a small tapestry made in workshops begun in 1974 with women, usually from working-class, marginalized neighborhoods whose husbands, partners, sons or fathers had lost their jobs or been detained and disappeared.

Lotty Rosenfeld, Chilean visual artist, co-founder of CADA (Colectivo de Acciones de Arte), intersecting a traffic line in front of La Moneda, Santiago de Chile, 1984. Photo credit: Gloria Camiroaga

“Burning Tent,” painting by Felipe Merino depicting the theatre-tent that was fire bombed in Santiago in 1977. Photo credit: Luis Poirot

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My book illustrates the impact of the arts on society, using the powerful example of Chilean artists during the Pinochet years, inside Chile and abroad.  It is the first book to document the influence of artists on the political process that eventually led Chile back to a democratic system in 1990.  Almost immediately after the September 11, 1973 military coup, artists began laying the groundwork for a future dissident movement, without which the political strategy to persuade Chileans to participate in the 1988 national plebiscite would have been far more difficult to implement.  Journalist and novelist Patricia Verdugo describes the climate at the onset of the dictatorship, “The terror was so great that gathering around a guitar to sing Gracias a la Vida by Violeta Parra was a fierce act of dissidence. Music was our first symbol of identity that gave us energy and enabled us to reconstruct groups…”

I have structured the book chronologically around more than 80 first-hand narratives of artists representing most genres (i.e., theatre, music, dance, film, photography, prose, poetry, visual arts, architecture, television), remembering art and life experiences under military rule and describing ongoing adjustments to a neo-liberal economy.  The narratives were selected and edited from nearly 225 interviews I taped in Chile, the United States and Europe.  I am interweaving these dramatic stories to reveal a diversity of opinions, backgrounds, and perspectives, creating a Rashomon effect. The artists in the book range from world famous to unknown and represent the long, narrow country from Antofagasta in the North to the archipelago of Chiloé in the South. Their stories provide insight into the Chilean character, intellect and humor.  They also chronicle political events in Chile culminating in the “NO” Campaign for the national plebiscite that defeated Pinochet at the ballot box in 1988, where artists’ contributions had far-reaching implications.  My own narrative tells of my close association with Chilean arts and politics during those years and argues the unique ability of the artist to alleviate fear, alter a society’s consciousness, and rebuild its spirit. The book is close to completion and is currently under consideration by a prominent international publisher.

Between Hope and Freedom

Cast, April 15, 2013 ©Elsa Ruiz

Americas Society, April 15, 2013 ©Elsa Ruiz

Reading, April 15, 2013 ©Elsa Ruiz

Reading set, Brown University, Sept. 2013

Part III, Brown U. Sept. 2013

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A play I began developing In 2013 based on my book, Symbols of Resistance: A Chilean Legacy of Artists under Pinochet. Between Hope and Freedom draws on dramatic narratives of 25 artists from the book. It has had four public readings: at “Julia’s Room” and at the Americas Society in New York; at Brown University; and at Finis Terrae University in Santiago, Chile. The Lark Theatre gave it an in-house reading in March 2014; as did New York Theatre Workshop in February 2015, with invited guests.

Part I:  artists tell where they were on the day of the military coup, Sept. 11, 1973.

Part II:  cultural resistance to the dictatorship, from days after the coup to the “NO” Campaign. The artists’ stories, moving and inspiring, often theatrical, sometimes with the keen Chilean humor, lend themselves easily to being dramatized.  They tell of ingenuity, resourcefulness and resilience of the human being under grim, difficult circumstances and show the artist’s unique ability to alter a society’s consciousness, rebuild its spirit, alleviate fear, and create a space for political strategies.

 

Part III: the conception and execution of that brilliant Campaign, told by its creators, ending with a montage of clips from the daily television segments allowed the opposition during the last four weeks of the Campaign.

 

In addition to the text, I am working on the play’s musical and visual elements. Though a documentary theatre piece, image and music tell the story as much as words.

I have structured the book chronologically around more than 80 first-hand narratives of artists representing most genres (i.e., theatre, music, dance, film, photography, prose, poetry, visual arts, architecture, television), remembering art and life experiences under military rule and describing ongoing adjustments to a neo-liberal economy.  The narratives were selected and edited from nearly 225 interviews I taped in Chile, the United States and Europe.  I am interweaving these dramatic stories to reveal a diversity of opinions, backgrounds, and perspectives, creating a Rashomon effect. The artists in the book range from world famous to unknown and represent the long, narrow country from Antofagasta in the North to the archipelago of Chiloé in the South. Their stories provide insight into the Chilean character, intellect and humor.  They also chronicle political events in Chile culminating in the “NO” Campaign for the national plebiscite that defeated Pinochet at the ballot box in 1988, where artists’ contributions had far-reaching implications.  My own narrative tells of my close association with Chilean arts and politics during those years and argues the unique ability of the artist to alleviate fear, alter a society’s consciousness, and rebuild its spirit. The book is close to completion and is currently under consideration by a prominent international publisher.

Altered Dreams

La Peña de los Parra, small music club in Santiago. Still from videotape shot by Joanne Pottlitzer, August 1973. Angel Parra, center; Roberto Parra, far right.

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A feature length documentary, in black and white and in color, that traces the evolution of artistic expression in Chile from the time of the dictatorship to the present. The film follows the course of eight Chilean music and theatre artists over thirty years and three governments (the Popular Unity/Salvador Allende; the military regime under Augusto Pinochet; and Chile’s restored democracy). The artists were videotaped by Pottlitzer in August, 1973 in Chile, and by Tracy Ward, 1974-1975, in New York. The same artists, when possible, are being taped now.

Common Words

Cast at the Americas Society, April 11, 2011 ©Elsa Ruiz

José Triana at the Martin Segal Theatre, CUNY Center in New York (May 2005)

From left to right: Geraldine Librandi, Joanne Pottlitzer and Deborah Jean Templin, together for the second reading of Common Words (Richmond Shepard Theatre, NY, May 2010)

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My English translation of Cuban playwright José Triana’s Palabras communes was published by The Mercurian: A Theatrical Translation Review, Volume 4, Number 4, in December 2013. The script of Common Words is now ready for production consideration.

Triana is best known internationally for his La noche de los asesinos [Night of the Assassins]. Of his 13 plays, Common Words is the largest and most complex, and arguably his masterwork. Written between 1979 and 1986, the play is set in Cuba between 1894 and 1914 from the prelude of the Spanish-American War to the eve of WW I. Its cyclical form is a long flashback screened through the fragmentary memory of Victoria, a member of the landed middle class. Triana dramatizes, through the story of a landed family, a bourgeois, racist, sexist society unable to recognize its own self-righteousness and rigidity. Victoria’s struggle to destroy society’s hypocrisies is set against the impending war and its effects on a family in danger of losing its way of life.

Scenes from the play were read as part of “An Evening with José Triana” at CUNY Graduate School’s Martin Segal Theatre in 2005. Since then, three public readings have been held in New York, at The Dramatists Guild in 2009, at the Richmond Shepard Theatre in 2010, and at The Americas Society in April 2011, co-presented by The Cuban Cultural Center of New York, as part of the Si Cuba festival sponsored by the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Two scenes from Joanne’s translation of Common Words are featured in Review 82 (Cuba Inside and Out), The America Society’s quarterly journal in Spring 2011.

Paper Wings

Yellow Springs workshop,1990. Joan MacIntosh as Frida.

Yellow Springs workshop,1990

Yellow Springs workshop,1990

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My play with music about the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was given a workshop production in 1992 at Barnard College, including seven songs composed by Francisco Gonzalez, one of the original members of the California group, Los Lobos. Joan MacIntosh played the role of Frida. I directed. Juan José Gurrola, Mexican director/actor/set designer, was invited as artistic consultant and set designer. Jane Reisman, best known perhaps for her lighting design for Forever Plaid, designed the lights. The play is ready for a further workshop and a full production.

What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions.  Life is plurality, death is uniformity.  By suppressing differences and peculiarities, by eliminating different civilizations and cultures, progress weakens life and favors death.  The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us.  Every view of the world that becomes extinct, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life.                                                                        

-- Octavio Paz (1967)

All is all and one.  Anguish and pain and pleasure and death are nothing more than a process for existing.  The revolutionary struggle in this process is the open door to intelligence. .    

-- Frida Kahlo

 

The idea of “the interplay of differences” from Octavio Paz’s quote, above, is a theme that is inherent in this play.  It is especially relevant in our current world, where the fear of difference now holds court.  Another is a woman’s struggle for an independent identity in male-dominated cultures.  Both themes communicate far beyond the borders of Mexico.

Paper Wings is richly visual play that tells a touching story, with fire and humor, of an incredibly complex and colorful woman. It needs reexamining within the context of the heightened consciousness about Frida Kahlo that has evolved since it was last on a stage.

© Joanne Pottlitzer

Yellow Springs workshop,1990