“For me, my inner home is not related to a geographical place.”

The Cry of Protest

Photo by Florian Raditsch


The Cry of Protest

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra on Healing Rituals and Traumatic Experiences

Sandra, you were born in Viña del Mar, Chile, in 1967. Which memories do you associate with your childhood and youth?

I was born in Viña del Mar and grew up between Valparaíso on the coast and in the mountains of the Andes near a town called Illapel. I remember moments of normalcy—between parentheses—within moments of fear and between moments of shame and moments of persecution. I remember the risk of going out into the street and the military blocking the entrances to the place where we lived.

To what extent did Pinochet’s authoritarian regime influence your political mind?

I believe that any human being influences you. Growing up without democracy meant not being able to decide your own destiny and not being able to decide what you wanted to do with your life. The psychological terror exerted in the time of Pinochet still affects me. Many did not get over the brainwashing. These people have decided, being politically apathetic, that they do not want to have a participatory moment. What happened during the last year and is happening right now is a new generation that is taking to the streets in an attempt to overcome that barrier of social injustice.

In 1995 you left Chile and moved to Germany. What motivated you?

The decision to leave Chile was an important one, a decision to find a way to live freely and to be able to realize my dreams, which were difficult in an environment oppressed by a dictatorship. The place where I live now, which is Berlin, also affects my work because it is a place where I can be myself and not be criticized for what I do. It is a place where I have the freedom to create what comes from deep inside me, which is essential for my work.

Where can you find your “inner home”?

I think you are talking about the house of the heart or perhaps the essential self that finds a place. The place where one finds inner peace to be able to sleep peacefully and have fertile ground for creating and building a work, where I can build a constructive, creative, healing self to send a message that is in constant dialogue to improve the quality of life of human beings. I think I can find this inner home anywhere; it’s something inside myself. For me, my inner home is not related to a geographical place, so I don’t specifically prefer Berlin over any other place.

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra, No Pasarán, los venceremos mi amor, 2020

The phrase that gives this drawing its title - “No pasarán, los venceremos mi amor” (“They won't get through; we'll beat them my love”) - comes from a song by the Nicaraguan musician Carlos Mejía Godoy. Many of his songs became associated with the Sandinistas, the guerilla movement in Nicaragua named after the former national hero Augusto Sandinista. Having a Republican grandfather, who was exiled from Spain and grew up among the cries of protest, these became everyday phrases for Sandra Vásquez de la Horra.

Your works often relate to ancestral, spiritual energies as well as magicism. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I have experienced the rituals of different shamans and religions. I sought them out because I got to a point where I believed that simple artistic performances were no longer profound enough. Performances seemed empty to me after coming from a context of social violence, criticism, and political inconformity. I had the feeling that they were not real, not vital; there was no need for them. They were rather something visual. I did not feel that there was a bottom line, that anything had changed after having lived through the protests in South America, especially after having lived close to what the guerrilla fighters did in Peru. I experienced this very closely when I traveled there at the age of around twenty-two. I had a very traumatic experience regarding violence.

So I went to several countries to share experiences with different tribes, with different societies and religions. The different shamans whom I met took me by the hand, showing me the way of much mystery and many truths. For that reason, it was so important for me to also participate in the rituals of the Santeros, one of the main religious groups in Cuba. Meeting them taught me what the cosmic order was again. Returning to this order was important when they did a cleansing ritual. There was a sacrifice of an animal that was going to be eaten later, and then delivered to nature. This chain of survival made sense to me as a chain of solidarity in which a person’s aura was cleaned in order for it to be able to heal.

Several of your works are currently exhibited at the Venice Biennial. Curated by Cecilia Alemani, the exhibition is said to introduce a “New Surrealism” that transcends future visions of human bodies and technology. Your works are equally characterized by surrealist sceneries and human bodies that seem to spring from another world. What do they want to tell us?

The vision is ancestral to the stories of the Yoruba as well as the stories of the Indigenous people of the Americas, the Hopi, the Diné, the Aymaras, and the Mayans. The four stories teach us another way of seeing the universe, another order, an order that has a lot to do with magic. It has a lot to do with the discovery of the world through the eyes of a child. Every time I look, there are two universes. I rediscover the height. I rediscover the universe and make it richer, more complex, and more powerful. This power is healing because it shows that there is a world that makes much more sense than the world that I had imagined. It makes me deeply understand the human being.

The psychological terror exerted in the time of Pinochet still affects me psychologically.

Your video work "Hemispherios" shows your left and right hand trying to draw a mirrored figure in parallel movement. What are you attempting to show us here?

In the video work "Hemispherios", I am drawing with both hands and my eyes are closed, blindfolded like the statue of justice. With a mirror, I try to match the right hand with the movement of the left hand. With this movement I wanted to recapitulate something that has been difficult for me to understand, which I have decided to process. The political currents in my country have always been as extreme as the country itself. The right and the left have never agreed, and it seems that they will never agree on a way to unite. This work is my way of healing myself and maintaining the political dialogue.

Does the same apply to your work titled "No pasarán, los venceremos mi amor?" Is it also a way of healing yourself?

I have a Republican grandfather who was exiled from Spain and grew up among these cries of protest. In my life, phrases such as No pasarán, los venceremos mi amor became everyday phrases. The cry of protest is what you believe, and they are all the same, in the sense of seeking democracy and not being crushed by the dictatorship.

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra, La Voz de un Pueblo que Lucha, 2019

At the beginning of the uprising “Estallido social”, the series of demonstrations and protests initiated by the younger generation in Chile, Sandra Vasquéz de la Horra made the drawing “La voz de un pueblo que lucha”. Translated it means “The voice of a fighting people”. A female figure, half skeleton, half dissolving body, seems to unite several figures, faces, voices in one. Lingering between dream and reality, it unites past, present and future. After the election of Gabriel Boric in March 2022, himself one of the leading figures of the students’ protests in Chile, the voices of the Chilean people may eventually be heard.

Vladimir Safatle, professor at the Department of Philosophy and of Psychology at the University of São Paulo and currently a fellow at THE NEW INSTITUTE, describes the inauguration of the new government of Gabriel Boric in Chile as a new moment of insurrection “where the macrostructure of power is no longer neglected.” How do you perceive this political shift?

With the new government, a very important step has been taken that could give Chile back the dignity of having common goods held by the people. Hopefully we will return to democracy, freedom, and participatory society, a fairer society. This is a pro-pluralist government where the native and mestizo peoples will have a space to decide with Parliamentarians to change the 1980 Constitution of the Pinochet government. For the native and mestizo peoples this is a very strong historical moment, led by Elisa Loncón, president of the Constitución Convencional. If Boric’s government manages to be a government that really takes into account the democratic processes as the basis of a participatory society—instead of a government that benefits only a small fraction of the population’s economic interests—if they ensure equal opportunities in education, justice, and a decent pension, we will be able to look to the future with much more hope.

To what extent do you think the heritage of Allende is still alive in Chile?

It’s definitely still alive in Chile. Especially in this moment, after Boric’s election, many people will return to Allende’s heritage and his ideas, but I wonder whether the forces are strong enough to let it survive. Allende’s government was a government that didn’t last very long, and it had very little chance of being able to actually govern the people. There was a lot of sabotage.

The decision to leave Chile was an important one, a decision to find a way to live freely and to be able to realize my dreams.

I also think the influence of people’s socialist ideas could be seen in Boric’s opening speech, which encompassed several features that can be described as part of Allende’s legacy. The agreement that they are creating a new constitution is also a sign that the new government is creating a constant, living dialogue. It’s also a humanitarian call. He talks about migration, tolerance, and solidarity, and he also considers the difficult situation regarding the land of Indigenous people with the extreme privatization of common goods. The privatization affects all the small farmers, the owners of the land who no longer have access to water and become trapped in cycles of debt.

Your works often deal with femininity and gender, placing the female body at the forefront.

My gender perspective has nothing to do with sex, but rather with a creative gender. That’s why women are so present in my work. Women give life. I grew up with a living imagination, where volcanoes were like the breasts of Mother Earth, the Pachamama. I practice the syncretism of religions. Women play an important role in many cultures, for example, the Aymara, the Inca, and the Yoruba. In this way, I have come to create my own personal mythology.

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra. Video still from Hemispherios, 2005

What’s the role of women in Chile today and how did it change in the twenty-first century?

Personally, I come from a family where women also studied, starting with my grandmother, and making this normal for everyone is fundamental for an open mind and conscience in the country. In the 1960s women already started to emancipate themselves. The artist Katia Sepúlveda, for instance, moved toward a so-called postcolonial feminism, working for gender freedom. Although this process has been much slower in Chile than in the rest of the world, and Chilean society is very macho and patriarchal, there has been some of the needed change. There is more gender equality, the female figure plays a different role, and there’s tolerance now toward lesbian and gay people, for instance.

To what extent would you describe yourself as a political artist?

I think human beings are intuitive, intellectual, poetic, and political. We are many things, but I don’t want to define myself as a political artist, because such a description would be pigeonholing me, and that’s what I’m trying to get away from. I’m trying to integrate all parts of myself and become a seed-like being.

Where do you see a potential for change? What’s your political vision?

Something big has been happening after the pandemic. I think we are very aware that society is going to change fundamentally, because we are no longer following the individualistic path we did before. We are more supportive; we are thinking more as a collective. We are going through very strong things that are going to have to change our vision of the world, and I hope that with this vision we will reach a more conscious, more evolved, and more enlightened future.

Could you complete this sentence for me: To me this is personal because . . .

I have a belief. I have a faith.

Questions by Antonia Lagemann

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra (1967, Viña del Mar) moved to Germany at the age of 27 to live in a democracy where she could finally be herself. On the quest for a place where she would be taken seriously as a visual artist, Vásquez de la Horra started her studies at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Jannis Kounellis, one of the founders of the Arte Povera movement, and the German artist Rosemarie Trockel.


Sandra Vásquez de la Horra, "No Pasarán, los venceremos mi amor", 2020, drawing 4 parts, Graphite and gouche on paper, in Wax, 204,5x134 cm. Photo Eric Tschernow. Courtesy of the Artist, Berlin.

Sandra Vásquez de la Horra, "La Voz de un Pueblo que Lucha", 2019, drawing on three pieces, graphite, watercolor and wax on paper, 236,2 x 108,6 cm. Photo Eric Tschernow. Bendana - Pinel Contemporary Art, Paris. Copyright of the Artist.

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