At the beginning of March 2012, in a park in the center of Santiago de Chile, a neo-Nazi gang beat up 24-year-old Daniel Zamudio for being homosexual. The aggression was so brutal that the young man died after 27 days of agony. One of the tributes on the tenth anniversary of his death consisted of a mural in the square where the event occurred. Explicit scenes of sex between men appeared in the work, which generated a wave of rejection led by the Ombudsman for Children. By order of the municipality, the mural appeared this Tuesday covered in white paint after a gang that defines itself as anti-communist wrote about it. The action of the authorities filled the artists with indignation, who denounce censorship.
The mural, described by neighbors, organizations and even by Zamudio’s family as “pornographic”, and by specialists in urban art as “claiming”, has reopened the debate on the limits of artistic works in public space.
The images of fellatio and men blindfolded and chained having sex scandalized several residents of Plaza San Borja, through which families from the residential neighborhood circulate. The Ombudsman for Children, Patricia Muñoz, was alerted to the content on social networks and contacted the municipality to request that the mural be removed. “We are talking about porn. [El mural] it has to do with a private sphere, where people choose to go see it. Here pronographic images are imposed that do not take children into account, subjects of rights that we have to integrate and protect”, he points out. “We are still not sure if the mural was authorized or not,” adds Muñoz, questioning the official version of the municipality led by the communist mayor Irací Hassler, who claims not to have authorized it.
The stupor at the work of the group of erotic artists Ojo Porno reached the house of the Zamudio. Iván Zamudio, father of one of the icons of the Chilean LGTBIQ community, criticizes that the mural “was not a tribute.” “These types of expressions are not respectful, for me it’s pornographic,” he says over the phone. “It is counterproductive for our fight, which is that these children are respected. [Los autores de la obra] they are expressing themselves in a way that seems inappropriate to me,” he adds.
Since the murder of the young gay man, some neighbors and activists speak of “Daniel Zamudio Square” instead of “San Borja Square.” One of his father’s wishes is for this oral custom to become official: “It would be a pride, painful, but a pride.” Daniel’s death prompted the creation of the anti-discrimination law, popularly known as the Zamudio law.
The walls, statues and benches of downtown Santiago became the canvasses of the demonstrators who participated in the October 2019 protests against social inequalities. Since then, the façade in the heart of the capital has been repeatedly cleaned and scratched again. “Public space belongs to everyone and belongs to no one,” says Ignacio Szmulewicz, historian specializing in contemporary art. “The State has to do its best to preserve and care for it. If someone scratches a monument, it has to be restored, but they will scratch it again. Whether you want it or not. With education or not, because dissent is expressed in the public space”, he adds.
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Josefina Andreu, director of Metro 21, an urban art gallery, considers that the seriousness of what happened in relation to the mural is not that it explicitly showed eroticism, but “the violence with which they were attacked and censored on social networks and in public space” the creators of the work. “The violence that has marked that place is perpetuated,” she laments. Andreu downplays the fact that the images have been explicit because she, she considers, minors are constantly exposed to super graphic images.
“That this is transferred to the public space, personally and as a mother, I do not think that it violates the children but rather that it naturalizes the issue, which is something that is lacking a lot in Chile. If the works incited sexual violence or pedophilia, I would agree with the defender of Children, but it showed a type of sex, homoerotic, and I think that is what generated so much controversy, ”she concludes.
On the mural, Szmulewicz remarks that the DNA of art is to push the boundaries of the conventional and recalls the works of the Ramona Parra brigade, an icon of the Popular Unity, which were censored during the dictatorship and that today are part of the Chilean tradition. “Now they are moving the borders of sexual dissent, which have very little room for visibility around the public sphere.” “We are having this debate thanks to the fact that it is a work of art made by a group that some say ‘I don’t want to see’ and others that I do”, he adds.
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