Decolonise Femininity in Public Monuments, Santiago of Chile

Francisca Elizabeth Pimentel Fuentes | Architect, Researcher and Teaching Assistant, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Since 2012, the opposition against domestic violence, sexist culture, and femicide has generated several demonstrations which have taken place in the main public spaces and avenues of Santiago, Chile. Last year, protests were characterised by massive feminist performances, art streets, and public sculptures’ intervention. During the 2020 International Feminist Strike, the statue of the Chilean soldier and politician Manuel Baquedano was temporary turned into a woman and dressed as a native female. Through this act, I started by questioning gender representation and female archetypal in downtown Santiago’s public space.

The local and physical representation of female figures relies upon an idea of a woman defined by parameters imposed by Spanish colonialism and perpetuated during coloniality. This model has introduced a Eurocentric femininity model, constructed and legitimised from an elitist, western and masculine perspective. To address this phenomenon, I question women’s presence and representation in downtown Santiago’s public sculpture, facing the historical (dis) association “women-domestic space”, which refers to their “private” role. Second, I study the concepts of coloniality of being and gender, respectively, to explain the development of gendered sculptures in the public sphere as both a corporeal and psychical sign of patriarchal colonial power relationships in society. Finally, I discuss the depatriarchalisation and decolonisation of public monuments, examining the Baquedano sculpture’s defacement during 2020 8M (March 8) as a study case. I argue that this intervention might be interpreted as a decolonial performance in response to the systematic omission and hegemonic representation of Chilean women in the public sphere, transforming Baquedano patriarchal narrative to legitimise the monumentalisation of the colonised female body.

However, will the resignification of these elements be enough to decolonise our city’s public monuments? Should we continue to perpetuate the monumentalization of some individuals to the detriment of others?. I certainly think not. Decolonising necessarily implies making visible —and situate— the multiple voices in the territory, particularly those marginalised in official history. So, let us leave the plinths free for the people; let us make these an urban and democratic setting. Let them be able to express ourselves, our history and our bodies.