Chilean Artist Carlos Zúñiga: An Editor of Society

For someone that has studied architecture, design and art, Chilean artist Carlos Zúñiga considers it too ambitious to bear the title “artist” and instead considers himself a philosopher. But a quick glance at his work convinces even the harshest critic that Zúñiga is not only a philosopher, but that he also has the talent of a seasoned artist. What’s more, he has the work to prove it.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Carlos Zúñiga

Carlos Zúñiga began a career in architecture, but his philosophical approach didn’t fit the rigid and realistic paradigms that this career demanded. He moved on to study design hoping that he could be a more direct contributor to the social necessities he observed around him. After ten years of working as a designer and eventually ending up in the editorial business, Zúñiga began to understand the laws and the logic of the market; and this understanding lead him to a profound disappointment in not being able to contribute to society in a more personal way.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Carlos Zúñiga

Hoping to create what he wanted, not what someone else asked him to and definitely not what the market dictated, Zúñiga finally went on to study Art at the University of Chile.

But his work in the editorial business had a significant impact on his artistic work. Zúñiga realized that editing means avoiding disclosing information, or even hiding it, because of personal interests—often political in nature. Zúñiga wondered, “Who has the capacity to do this? Who has the truth?” He concluded that the answers to these questions lie in the government and in the market. His video “The Origin of Species” deals with this issue.

The six and a half minute video of Zúñiga’s hand crossing out each line of a book has clear political undertones. Born into the socialist government of Salvador Allende, Zúñiga is very aware of the Pinochet dictatorship and its consequences, which included not only an authoritative push into capitalism, but also the censuring of information.

A few years back, texts with lines crossed out emerged as once-suppressed material reappeared into the now democratic Chile. In a very ironic and condemning way, in this video Zúñiga takes on the part of the executioner by taking a black marker and mechanically crossing out line by line of the controversial book The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Carlos Zúñiga

In his work “Souvenir S, M, L, XL”, a folded up t-shirt encapsulated in a glass display box reads, “¿Dónde están?” the question many families of those who disappeared during the dictatorship are still asking themselves. A question that, according to Zúñiga, no one can or wants to answer.

In “Phone Book”, his most unique and famous work, Zúñiga combines the themes of editing and crossing out together with the social consequences of the dictatorship in Chile. By strategically crossing out lines with a black marker, Zúñiga creates a realistic portrait on the page of a phone book.

He was inspired by the families in Chile who commonly keep portraits of the disappeared, as a last reflection of their soul. But as a direct criticism to the post-Pinochet generation, a great part of his phonebook drawings are portraits of this new generation, those now in their mid-twenties who are moving on from the events of the dictatorship.

When speaking about his views on his country’s past and on this new generation, Zúñiga explains that we are all born into different times and are affected by the bubble we are born into. He admits growing up in a bubble himself, where he received a privileged education that helped him understand different economic systems; he also confesses to being profoundly capitalistic because of this.
But when trying to find a common thread that ties his work together, Zúñiga points to the consequences of the market over society. He further explains that, “Where society and capitalism meet, decay is produced; and this is evident throughout the world. Capitalism is beginning to show its own faults.”

Santiago Chile
Photo courtesy Carlos Zúñiga

However, Zúñiga also says he is not a leftist. And this is the beauty of his work; instead of being partisan speech, his work is a criticism and a reflection of the world he lives in. He is capable of breaking the bubble and expressing the repressed feelings of a Chilean society that was left divided and with unanswered questions.

His current work takes on issues of justice, with a prosthetic arm clutching a red card, typically used in soccer games by referees imposing judgment on soccer players. Zúñiga explains that this work, in particular, “is not seen from the point of view of a handicapped person that needs an extension; it is seen from the point of view of straightening society.”

Zúñiga sees art, and in turn every human being, as having the option and the right to emit judgment and of administering it, instead of just subjecting to it. He certainly practices what he preaches with his highly socially-minded work.

To see more of Zúñiga’s work, visit his website at http://www.carloszuniga.org.

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