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Chile: restoring art damaged in the earthquake

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An important mural by the Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros in the southern Chilean city of Chillán, which was damaged in the February 2010 earthquake, is being restored by Mexican artists.

siqueiros_chile1A group of art experts led by three Mexican conservationists is nearing completion of the mural ‘Death to the Invader’ painted in the southern Chilean city of Chillán in 1942 by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros.

The mural, painted in the ‘Escuela Mexico’ of Chillán, a city of some 200,000 inhabitants 400 kilometres south of the capital Santiago was badly damaged in the February 2010 earthquake which devastated this part of southern Chile.

David Oviedo Jiménez, a restorer from the Mexican National Institute of Fine Arts who is leading the restoration efforts, said that the mural had suffered considerable damage including cracks and damage to the paintwork over much of the surface of the mural.

The Escuela Mexico was donated by the Mexican government to Chillán in 1940, after a large-scale earthquake left the town in ruins and killed more than 5,000 people.

In May 1940 Siqueiros (1896-1974) was anxious to leave Mexico after being released from prison as a result of his involvement in a failed attempt to assassinate the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

He was a good friend of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, at the time his country’s ambassador in Mexico City. It was Neruda who suggested he travel to the south of Chile until the Trotsky affair had calmed down back in Mexico. Trotsky in fact was killed while Siqueiros was in Chile.

Siqueiros took his wife and children with him, and lived in the school while it was being built and he was painting the mural. It took him more than a year to complete, and shows in dramatic, expressionist style Latin American heroes from Mexico and Chile resisting the Spanish invaders.

It is considered particularly important as Siqueiros used it to experiment with techniques and themes that afterwards he employed in many later works in Mexico.

The three Mexican experts have been working on the mural for almost a year now, and hope to have the restoration finished by the end of June 2012.

In addition to the earthquake damage, the restorers say that rain, extremes of temperature had affected the Siqueiros mural – and that they had to get rid of a nest of bats that had made their home there.

Their work was further complicated by the experiments Siqueiros made with his materials, some of which have not withstood the passage of time and have had to be redone with more permanent

They are also restoring a second mural by the Mexican artist Xavier Guerrero, called ‘From Mexico to Chile’ which has suffered less damage than the Siqueiros as it was painted in the entrance hall to the school where it was better preserved.

The two murals have been declared National Historical monuments in Chile, and are the city’s main attraction, visited by thousands of tourists every year.

 

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