Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mano de Desierto (Hand of the Desert)

The Atacama Desert is one of several seemingly lifeless places that make Chile look like another world. The scorched lunar-like landscape stretches for hundreds of miles on both sides of the Pan-American Highway, with much of that distance undisturbed by any sign of human, animal or avian activity. About 75km south of the town of Antofagasta, the monotony is broken by a sight even more eerie then the desert itself. I guess there is nothing like a blank canvas if you want to create a massive sculpture even if that sculpture is an enormous hand protruding out of the sand. And that's just what Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal has done here. Inaugurated in 1992 with funding from a local organization, Mano de Desierto (Hand of the Desert) is made from iron and cement and looms 11 meters (36 feet) tall. Since its inception, it has become a point of interest and a popular photo stop for tourists traveling this section of the Pan-American Highway, even bus companies tell their passengers to “just look to the west”. We do not want to just look; we want to get up close and personal with the sculpture, which means leaving the highway and driving down yet another dirt trail. As we get closer, the statue towers over us. On closer inspection, the detail is incredible. Palm, thumb, fingers, joints even the fingernails, it is remarkable. Sort of like looking at your hand under a microscope. But why a hand? Well, the notion of hands rising from the ground is an obsession of Mr. Irarrázabal's and his trademark of ideas. His other famous work includes another over-sized sculpture of a hand exploring the same idea: We had seen Monument to the Drowned at Playa Brava in Punta del Este, Uruguay, when we were there. (see blog from Punta del Este, Uruguay). According to Irarrázabal he uses the human hand to express emotions like injustice, loneliness, sorrow and torture and the exaggerated size is meant to emphasize human vulnerability and helplessness. Well! It is extraordinary, if a little strange. It is also unfortunately an easy victim of graffiti and although it is cleaned occasionally that must not have been done in a while as there were quite a few markings on it. We took photographs while Winston waited in the shade of the palm and thumb, like I said this thing is rather large. After walking around it a few more times, we left but marveled at the fact that first of all someone had thought of doing this, two; someone agreed to fund it and three; they had chosen this of all places which is, quite frankly in the middle of nowhere to build it. Oh, and four; if you are ever in the area, don’t miss it!

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