Chile’s neoliberal ideology has co-opted artist’s creativity

The failed economic experiments of the 1970s laid the groundwork for today’s socio-economic crisis

Protests in Chile Fotomovimiento via Flickr

Protests in Chile Fotomovimiento via Flickr

What is a reliable metric for understanding and stating the value of a given market in Chile, let alone the art market? The impossibility of answering this question is key to understanding the country’s current socio-economic crisis.

Neoliberalism was first imposed in Chile by the economists known as the Chicago Boys, who were put into positions of governmental power during Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Since then, the country has undergone an aggressive constitutional, political and economic rewrite, resulting in a slew of recent protests and ongoing social unrest. Pinochet’s regime not only left an atrocious scar on the cultural heritage of the nation, it has also created a predatory market that continues to throttle artistic production in Chile.

The degradation of the nation’s social and cultural ecology began in the 1970s with the financialisation of the economy under José Piñera, the brother of Chile’s current president Sebastian Piñera. Under Pinochet, José conceived of privatising the welfare system, replacing the national fund for state pensioners with one backed by investment funds. After almost 40 years of this system, eight out of ten pensioners in Chile do not receive enough to keep them above the poverty line.

A few years later, in the 1980s, Sebastian Piñera introduced the credit card to the Chilean market, and with it, a culture of exploitation and domination rooted in debt. Similarly, a group of Chilean economists, who studied under the American market theorist Milton Friedman, took advantage of the population’s violently suppressed cognitive, social and emotional landscape and implemented a new paradigm of control cloaked under the rhetoric of progress and personal well-being.

These tactics have infiltrated nearly all areas of life in Chile, and can perhaps most notably be seen today in the country’s educational programmes. More than 30 private universities have been created in Chile, and they function mainly as businesses aiming to optimise their profits, while creating significant debt for their students and downgrading the quality of higher education. Many schools blindly churn out fine arts degrees despite the lack of a sustainable art market in the country. As a result, Chile’s artists are trained to follow the spasmodic arrhythmia of finance’s flow.

A nation’s artistic production is a vital social fabric, one that interweaves forms of expression and personal interpretations, to construct a kind of collective memory. This is where the chip of neoliberal ideology has been insidiously implanted by the elite powers, and our shared collective memory has been historically harmed by the financial co-opting of not just our bodies, but our creativity.

Protest and art, however, share a similar creative force—the unexpected movement against the motion of the norm through symbolic negotiations that reshape and renew culture’s complexities. In recent weeks, the Chilean pueblo is bravely revolting against the rigid structure of neoliberal policies and their reductive abstraction of language for the sake of progress and exponential growth. They are co-operatively creating a new language fiercely capable of escaping the monotonous weight of a techno-linguistic automatism—asking for fundamental rights and a constituent assembly. Hasta que la dignidad se haga costumbre. (Until dignity becomes customary.)

The writer is a Chilean artist living and working in New York.