‘Y Habrá Trabajo Para Todos’: Contextualising the Chilean Mural at Leeds University Union Symposium,16.10.2018

One night last year, Mario, a Chilean PhD student, looking for a loo in the students’ union, inadvertently went into a room undergoing a major renovation.  He spotted what he thought was a Chilean flag painted on the wall, returned the next day to check – and recognised it as a faded and damaged mural from the Allende years!  Thanks to the efforts of SCDA and Chile 40 Years On, the mural was saved and restored:  a social media campaign to put pressure on the university to preserve the mural was successful, building work on the room was halted, and a team set up to develop a restoration project. What followed was a year of hard work, culminating in the symposium this afternoon.

The symposium started with a group of young MA students who’d developed resources around the context of the mural. The resources – written materials plus audio recordings – were designed to help people understand why there had been Chileans at Leeds University 40 years ago, and what had happened in Chile in the 70s.  Next was Kasia Breska, the Polish artist who’d been commissioned to restore the mural. In the course of her work, she’d learnt about Chile, about Allende and Popular Unity, and about the Coup in ’73, which was all new to her. She also met the 3 original Chilean artists – and they worked with her on the mural, which she said was a privilege and an immensely satisfying and stimulating experience.

Afterwards, we went to see the mural. We all crammed into the tiny room – and it was a moving and exciting experience to see the mural restored after 40 years of being hidden and forgotten; and to reflect on the three young Chilean students, so far from home, carrying the message of Popular Unity to Leeds University.

A stimulating, thought-provoking and informative afternoon which looked at the role of art and artists in political struggle. It was also an afternoon which focused on memory, particularly the memory of what happened in Chile, of the extraordinary Allende years as well as the military Coup which claimed thousands of lives and forced thousands more into exile. It focused on the ambivalence about remembering the past which can be so traumatic that people want to block it out but also recognised the importance of memory which allows us to learn from events, honour those who resisted – and ensure that those in power cannot revise or eradicate the past.

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