Through his artistic practice Bernardo Oyarzún confronts experiences of racism, notably in the context of the resistance of the Indigenous Mapuche (‘people of the land’) culture in Chile and Argentina. Of Mapuche descent himself, Oyarzún has created works since the 1990s that revitalize popular practices and aesthetics, asserting the ancestral and contemporary Indigenous knowledge that they impart—through craft, orality, culinary arts, rituals, and festivities. In his large sculpture Kilombo: Piwuchen, the mythological shape-shifting figure Piwuchen takes the allegorical form of a parade float, coming to life in the world of Carnival. The colourful snake-like creature is based on recent stories told by inhabitants of southern Chile in the Mapuche and Chiloé territories, thereby embodying the Indigenous imaginary that lives on through different generations via orality. Following his earlier work Kilombo (2012), Oyarzún recalls the African origin of quilombo—meaning ‘war camp’ from the Kimbundu word kilombo—connecting the cultural resistance of Indigenous people and Afrodescendants against (neo)colonialism within and across continents. Playful, contemporary, and historical, Oyarzún’s practice always contains a story, which the viewer may pass on, generating change and joy within their own communities. 

Commissioned by Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), coproduced by Bernardo Oyarzún and HKW, and realized with the support of the Ministerio de las Culturas, las Artes y el Patrimonio | Gobierno de Chile (Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage | Government of Chile), 2023.

Work in the exhibition: Kilombo: Piwuchen (2023), sculpture, papier marché, diverse materials, 3 × 5 × 2 m. Courtesy of the artist

El Médan, participatory performance by Bernardo Oyarzún during the opening weekend, 24 June 2023.