Exploring Santiago`s heritage by bicycle

The third and final post on the recent Hecho en Casa Festival in Santiago is set in a working class neighbourhood in the south of the city which, until a few weeks ago, I had never visited. The neighbourhood of San Miguel did not feature in the Festival, since the event was limited to a rather small area of Santiago Centro. Yet thanks to Bicipaseos Patrimoniales, I had a wonderful, but very hot, Sunday bike ride to San Miguel to see the Museo a Cielo Abierto (Open Sky Musuem).

The story behind this museum started in 2009 when two families living in the area came up with the idea to transform the “grey reality” of the neighbourhood and reactivate the community through art, whilst at the same time making the area a tourist icon in the city.   These two families worked tirelessly to bring on board their neighbours, various organizations and the local authorities in order to bring to life their dream of an open air gallery of giant murals. Alejandro González, one of Chile`s most famous muralists was the project`s art director, responsible for bringing together diverse artists and yet at the same time ensuring a certain cohesion between the works. The aim of the murals was not only to clean and decorate the drab walls of the apartment blocks, but also to show different aspects of Chilean culture. The project had a unifying impact on the community since all the designs were first vetted by the neighbours themselves.

In total the neighbourhood has 22 massive murals, of which I managed to see the majority. The following are some of my favourites with a little bit of the story behind them.

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Meli Wuayra, which in Aymara means the four winds, represents the native cultures, predominantly the Mapuche culture. In the centre is a Machi (Mapuche spiritual leader). The mural also includes other important ethnicities including the Rapa Nui, Aymara (from the north of Chile) and the Onas (an extinct culture from Patagonia).

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Carnaval Latinoamerica. This mural was inspired by the carnival concept, so famous in Brazil, and throughout many other parts of Latin America. According to the description of this mural, it is during carnaval that people can connect with their precolombino (pre-Colombus) origin, through music, dance, colourful clothes and masks.

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Chiloe Mythology. Chiloe is an archipelago of islands in the south of Chile, known for their rich folklore, myths and legends.

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Signs of Life – This mural is centred around the idea of travel and imagination and bringing nature to life in the middle of the city. The design used flora and fauna emblematic of Chile such as the Araucaria, puma and condor. The description of the mural on the website includes the following dedication from the artists: “This mural is dedicated to the neighbours who gave us their smiles and truth. Especially to the children who have never seen the sea, but who now have a whale in their window“.

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Chilean Writers – This mural pays homage to Chilean literature and its most famous protagonists. However, the artist did not want to use images of famous writers, such as Pablo Neruda or Gabriela Mistral, rather his focus was on the words that they have left behind, which are Chile`s true heritage.

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The Inhabitants – This mural shows the profiles of five faces which represent the people living in these apartment buildings and their diversity, shown by the different colours used.

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Tribute to the Struggling Workers – this mural reflects the worker`s struggle and that the farm worker, miner, fisherman or craftsman are all a vital part of society. According to the artist, the birds and flying stones (which may not be clear in the photo) represent the search for freedom and escape from oppression which workers have long fought for.

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Los Prisioneros (The Prisoners) – For non-Chileans reading this post, the first thing to know is that the men in this mural are Los Prisioneros, one of the most famous bands from Chile in the 80`s. This was the first mural painted in the project and served to gain the trust of the community. The reason being that the band members grew up in San Miguel, in relative poverty and yet they managed to become famous with their music and through this fight the system. They became a legend in the community and thus it was fitting to start the mural project with a tribute to Los Prisioneros.

Although this is only a handful of the murals that make up the museum, it gives you some idea of this wonderful project that bought life and colour to the buildings of this neighbourhood. It is clear that the community love and respect these artworks and many people who had to wind their way through hundreds of bicycles to get to their apartments or go about their Sunday morning activities, did not seem too perturbed that we were invading their space. Also, it is incredible that, although graffiti dominates almost every open wallspace in the neighbourhood, in the three years of existence there has never been so much as a splash of spraypaint or writing on any of the murals.

Finally, I want to conclude this post with a tribute to an amazing group of Santiaguinos, without whom I would still not know that this museum even existed. Bicipaseos Patrimoniales is an initiative founded by a group of young professionals interested in diffusing the cultural heritage of the Metropolitan Region of Chile (Santiago and surroundings) through the use of bicycles. One Sunday every month this group organises a cicletada with a certain cultural theme. I personally think there is no greater way to explore different neighbourhoods, understand the micro-histories of the city and get a glimpse of cultures and customs at a local scale, than by bicycle with a group of like minded people.

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Taking photos while cycling is not easy, but I managed to snap a few images.

Group Photo - Bici Paseo Patrimonial

I “borrowed” this photo from the Bicipaseos facebook page which shows us having a quick break in a shady, quiet plaza. The day was a scorcher and so the shade was most welcome.

Thank you to Bicipaseos Patrimoniales for a wonderful day and a great initiative. I can`t wait for the next cicletada this coming Sunday. To my blog readers, you will definitely see more posts about this group in the coming months.

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2 Responses to Exploring Santiago`s heritage by bicycle

  1. hello… nice blog 🙂
    i am in santiago on a couple of months trip..
    can you plz point me exact location on google map.. 🙂

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