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Matías Celedón, Writer

It was while working on Memory & Landscape, a book and homage to the dead and disappeared by the Chilean dictatorship, that the artist’s technique revealed its possibilities: at some point in the etching process, images also disappear.


After the military coup in Chile, the secret police added a new system of subduing the population to its methods of detention and torture: disappearances. Among them, we know some people were thrown from helicopters into the sea, their stomachs opened beforehand to prevent them from floating. To date, many victims have not been found. They are the landscape of memory.


“I started to see the layers of history. When I started carving those moments into wood, for example, I felt I was carving into history. That’s what yielded the analogy that made sense to me and made the work profound.” 1


María Verónica San Martín marks this impression through her technique and craft. Similarly, she takes part in a collective search, moving through a recollection of absences and images.


Pushing the nature of the book to its limit, the artist summons the echoes of a history that never should have been written: in both In their memory (2012), which records the victims’ identities and graphically pays tribute to the protest movement started by the relatives of the Disappeared Detainees, as well as in Memory & Landscape (2013), where the motif and printing technique itself register the fate of some of the victims listed in the Rettig Report, a document created under democracy by the Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission, also quoted in the book.


“The book format was chosen as the creative medium to become part of Chile’s collective memory. Given that, as a book, it will always remain open, it also symbolizes ontologically the constant struggle for dignity for the dictatorship’s victims and their relatives.” 2 


Intervening into the physical space of a text, San Martín narrates through transfer techniques, combining the different narrative elements that comprise the collective history of the injustices committed between 1973 and 1990.  Assembling various documentary and archival sources, she takes part in the installation of her work, integrating diverse techniques and records, participating in narratives that hold, perhaps, the darkest moments of Chile’s recent past, but above all, still hold onto them, in the most compassionate sense of the term.


Her latest work, Indignity and resistance (2015), a circular perimeter that contrasts the sinister chronicle of the tortures committed inside of the former Cuartel Terranova – now, Villa Grimaldi, a park for peace – with the immaculate Andean foothills that surrounded the clandestine torture center, is built around narratives collected from the oral archives of Villa Grimaldi and the testimony of Gladys Diaz, a survivor. Within the book, San Martín retrieves the images of captivity, articulating a dark, tragic, and devastating sequence, made of phantasmagoric traces that coexist with subtle gestures, details that give an account of a resistance based on solidarity, loyalty, and companionship.


San Martín works with horror, but also with scenes of resilience. Using her technique as a metaphor for her meditation, she broadens the horizon for the work towards the preservation and updating of historical memory.


“There are messages that can be interpreted as corresponding to what happened in the transition from Dictatorship to Democracy. As printmaking, it also made sense to me. An image that disappears in the printmaking process then reappears printed on paper, like the search for truth and reconciliation.” 3


Taking the form of books, María Verónica San Martín’s works allow for the possibility of narrative, existing simultaneously and unfolding inevitably into sculptures. They are portable memorials of Chile’s recent history that, when installed, expand into powerful propositions from a talented artist who was born in the middle of the dictatorship.


[1] Conversation with María Verónica San Martín. Villa Grimaldi, March 22, 2016.

[2] María Verónica San Martín, Presentation “Memory and Landscape: Unveiling the Historical truths of Chile.”

[3] Conversation with María Verónica San Martín. Villa Grimaldi, March 22, 2016.


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