Chile’s Victor Jara commemorated by mural at Brick Lane’s Rough Trade East
- Credit: Mercadito Productions
Otto Schade was haunted by the tale of Chilean folk musician Victor Jara’s hands being broken and having to sing with a guitar he could no longer play.
The story is one of many about torture and murder during Chile’s 9/11—the day General Pinochet staged his 1973 coup that led to thousands of arrests and disappearances and a million refugees fleeing abroad.
Now a tribute is being staged in London’s East End throughout September to mark the 40th anniversary of a dark chapter opening in the history of the Latin American republic.
Otto, an emerging Chilean artist, chooses ‘Broken Hands’ as the title for his month-long art show at Rough Trade East in the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, running till September 29, as a tribute to Jara—once described by Rolling Stone Magazine as “a true rock and roll rebel.”
Jara was arrested during Pinochet’s coup and taken to the infamous National Football stadium used by the military as a makeshift concentration camp, then said to have been tortured and killed.
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“I grew up in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship,” Otto recalls. “Victor Jara was an inspiration to those of us trying to understand what was happening—his lyrics had resonance and listening to his music was an act of rebellion.”
Otto heard about Jara being named earlier this year as one of the 15 most-controversial composers in history and began to think about his influence.
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“I was haunted by the tale that Jara’s hands were broken during his ordeal,” he reveals. “He was forced to sing with a guitar he couldn’t play because of his broken hands.
“Jara defiantly sang ‘We Shall Overcome’ throughout his ordeal.”
The folk-singer’s body was later found dumped on a street in Santiago with 42 bullet wounds—his British-born widow Joan Turner buried him alone.
The torture and murder of the internationally-renowned composer-singer became a symbol of the Pinochet oppression with thousands of Chileans being executed or simply disappearing. Around a-million were forced into exile, including hundreds who found their way to Britain in the years following the 1973 coup.
Otto’s show is also a personal project for Rossana Leal, whose Mercadito Productions is staging it.
She said: “I was born in Chile and am the child of refugees who came to the UK in the late 70s.
“I grew up singing the songs of Victor Jara and was able to make sense of the confusing events around me.
“Jara sang about the lives of ordinary people like my parents and the harshness of life. He was a true rebel in the sense that he wrote about what was important to him, regardless of money and status.
“It’s because of this that Jara was singled out for ‘special treatment’ by the soldiers responsible for his murder.
“I hope, by exhibiting Otto’s mural throughout September, to reach out and tell the story of Jara and of the September coup.”
She will achieve her goal “if just one person Googles ‘Victor Jara’ after seeing this mural”.
It is her way of creating awareness of Chile’s own 9/11.
Jara lives on today among the stars—the Russian astronomer Nikolai Chernykh named a newly-found asteroid ‘Víctor Jara’ in 1973, in honour of the folk-singer with broken hands.