Off the west coast of Chile, extending from its rocky coastal mountain range into the Pacific Ocean, lies a lush, 3,200-square-mile island known as Chiloé. It has a little over 168,000 inhabitants, not including its abundant flamingo and penguin population; several natural reserves; and about 70 ecclesiastical wooden churches recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. It also has a single printmaking studio, which operates the only two professional lithographic presses on the island.
Part of the Academia de Artes Islas al Sur in the capital city of Castro, the studio is run by local artist Rafael Lara, who teaches the art of printmaking to young students. But in recent years, the studio’s resources have dwindled, and basics like gum arabic — used to transfer images in paper lithography — nitric acid for etchings, and cotton rag paper became too expensive or difficult to obtain.
A recently launched fundraiser aims to help re-equip the print studio, which Lara describes as “the pride of the city of Castro.”
“It was founded around 2001 by my teacher Draco Maturana,” Lara told Hyperallergic in an interview. “He left us a gift of love, a legacy for all the artists of the island, by creating an insular and territorial center for printmakers with all the cultural richness of our magic archipelago.”
The studio is called “Kimün, Kallfü, Rakidzuam” — the words for “wisdom,” “blue,” and “philosophy” or “knowledge” in the language of Chile’s native Mapuche people. About half of Chile’s Mapuche population resides in the south of the country, stretching from the Biobío river to Chiloé. (The island’s name is itself derived from the Mapuche word chillwe, meaning “seagull place.”)
Academia de Artes Islas al Sur also has its own symphony orchestra and offers other art and music classes free of charge to students of local elementary and secondary schools. But the print studio is of special significance to Lara, who learned printmaking from several Chilean artists who visited or resided on the island over the years, among them María Teresa Cotorás Berney, Guillermo Frommer, and Nelson Plaza.
“Before I learned to make prints, I worked primarily in oil and watercolor,” Lara said. “For 20 years now, I have not made a single painting. This is the power that printmaking has had on me.”
Lara’s own lithographic works, which hang proudly on twine and clothespins in the studio along with his students’ creations, depict rolling waves, botanical patterns, various creatures, and personal symbols, all rendered in a seemingly infinite number of minute strokes. “Weichafe” (2019), a lithograph he created as an album cover for the local band Wichañe, was inspired by the 19th-century Chilote pirate warrior Pedro María Ñancúpel, remembered by some as a vigilante who fought for Indigenous rights.
“The work shows the execution of Ñancúpel by the genocidal Chilean state, which today persecutes the Mapuche people,” Lara told Hyperallergic. Mapuches have spent decades advocating for their ancestral lands, threatened by multinational companies seeking to exploit their natural resources.
The prints stand out for their marvelous intricacy: Each composition appears to contain a dozen others, coming in and out of view like deconstructed scenes in a dream.
The fundraiser was launched with the help of New York-based curator Dan Cameron, who has made five visits to Chiloé over the last eight years, writing about his experience as one of the recipients of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators. Earlier this year, he launched a separate fundraiser for La Capilla Azul, a 200-year-old former chapel whose owners, artists Pablo Carvacho and his mother Clara Yañez, hope to turn into an arts center; it has raised $11,100 of its $15,000 goal so far.
Lara and his students’ works are regularly exhibited across the island, but on his most recent trip, Cameron observed that most pieces on view all dated from prior to 2020. During the pandemic, classes at the studio were suspended, and its budget for materials was frozen.
The print studio is accepting financial contributions via its GoFundMe page — with a funding goal of $2,500 — as well as physical donations of printmaking supplies, which can be sent directly to the school at the address listed on the fundraiser website.
“It’s been difficult to access what we need, because of a lack of funds and because some materials are hard to find in Chile,” Lara said. “But we have the most important things: the presses and our patience.”