A woman stands alone. Alone yet surrounded, isolated in a sea of people. She holds a placard above her head, it reads Asesinos de saber, or “Murderers of knowledge.” Her face is set in a look of defiance, her expression one of determination.
The Ghost, 2011 (photo by Mareen Ledebur)
For now at least, the woman will remain nameless, but her image is one of the most poignant subjects of a new exhibition of photos, No se vende, se defiende, a collection of 14 photographs taken by young German artist Mareen Ledebur during the now widely-publicised 2011 Chilean student protests.
Mareen first came to Santiago to study for her Bachelor thesis investigating the subject of photography and social protest, working with photographers who had been members of the Asociación de Fotógrafos Independientes (AFI) during the 1980s and the dictatorship.
Murderers of Knowledge, 2011 (photo by Mareen Ledebur)
While in the city writing, the student activism that had been rumbling along for several years began to grow in size, escalating to a stage at which hundreds of thousands of people were regularly taking to the streets to demonstrate over educational reform, and Mareen quickly found herself accompanying friends to protests. In the beginning, she was just an observer with her camera: “I never saw taking the pictures as an act of protest, this was more documenting the moment,” she tells me, “I just liked taking photos.”
But as she learnt more about the cause, Mareen gradually became more involved and more conscious of her own presence as a photographer at demonstrations, attending numerous protests armed with her Minolta Dynax500si analogue camera - she is insistent that I include that she did not work in a digital medium to create the shots - and taking pictures from inside the activity.
“Was there any one person or any point that stands out in your memory as capturing a sense of what the whole thing was about?,” I ask. She tilts her head and thinks quietly for a moment. “There are two actually; two moments, two photographs,” Mareen answers.
Supporting Arms, 2011 (photo by Mareen Ledebur)
The first image she refers to (Murderers Of Knowledge, 2011) is an obvious choice. Capturing the woman’s firey calm, it is one of the strongest photos in the collection. She apparently photographed the woman for over five minutes without her changing her stance. “This really was a moment of strength, she really wanted something. The words on the placard were the words she needed to communicate. She did not need to move to say them.”
The second was when she discovered a little side street where people were hanging out of the houses signaling their support to the crowds below, Mareen explains. From one of the windows above an older woman was leaning out of her window shouting and waving a sign, Adelante estudiantes y trabajadores or “Forward students and workers.”
Written On A Clown, 2011 (photo by Mareen Ledebur)
“In this photo (Supporting Arms, 2011) I captured a moment. She was maybe 50 or 60 years old and this was important. There were not only students out on the street; this was not just about the students. Maybe she couldn’t go down onto the street herself and you could not hear what she was saying, but she was still a part of what was happening and giving her support, really shouting and waving her arms.”
There are now many hundreds of images circulating which depict the so-called Chilean Winter, yet a defining element of Mareen’s work is that, rather than focussing on the violence that occurred between the police and students, she also seeks to depict the vibrancy, strength and solidarity of the movement. “It was not just violence that happened on the street. It was a very important thing that happened, people wanted change. Something special happened,” Mareen explains. Apart from a couple of isolated incidents and the teargas the police threw, the artist herself never felt particularly at threat and was more involved with her subject matter and the peaceful unity of those around her.
As well as showing the photos here in the capital, she has also exhibited the photos in Berlin. For her, this was an important part of telling a story which had not received much coverage in Europe and her publicization of the theme received a strong reaction, with feedback from those who saw her work being that her interpretation of events revealed another more human side to the events which had unfolded in Chile.
The exhibition is now live in Centro Cultural de La Barraca (Metro Bellavista de la Florida) until Sunday, April 7th, 2013 between 10am - 2pm and 3pm - 8pm. It will then be showing at University Catolica, touring all four campuses for eight weeks from Monday, April 8, 2013. Further details pending.