Screenshot courtesy of Manuela Morales

Alumna’s art personalizes political turmoil

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By Behdad Mahichi

Image arts alumna Manuela Morales’ student exhibition, Una Memoria Desconectada (A Disconnected Memory), at the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) recollects her father’s experiences during the 1973 Chilean coup d’état.

The narrative documentary – broken into four parts – is an intimate memoir of Francisco Morales, Manuela’s father, and how his politics led him to imprisonment and exile. Francisco collaborated with Manuela on the project.

“I wanted to be able for you to really be able to see this broad thing and analyze it,” said Manuela. “Given that it’s kind of slow and that the pace isn’t taking wild turns, you are really settled to listening to [Francisco’s] voice.”

The exhibition has two screens, one displaying footage of landmarks related to the coup. The other displays pictures of Francisco living his prior life at his home and work. Francisco narrates his story in the doc while Manuela responds to him through overlaying text.

“The slides are supposed to be a bit more of the intimate side of my dad’s life and who he is, while the video is kind of more the broad sense of the country,” she said.

In 1973, a military coup overthrew democratic Marxist president Salvador Allende. The event installed a 17-year dictatorship under military general Augusto Pinochet, notorious for violating human rights.

Francisco was passionate about Chilean politics and believed in having a politically knowledgeable country. But Manuela’s father became victim to Pinochet’s brutality, enduring an 18-month incarceration where he was tortured by electric shock. His only “crime” was supporting Chile’s left-wing government.

“[Secret police] just burst in,” Francisco says in the film. “I must say, I was terrified.”

After Francisco’s imprisonment, he was exiled to England and his passion for politics faded.

Aside from her father’s horrendous accounts of torture and exile, Manuela also struggled with the fact that she grew up distanced from her father.

Manuela was born in 1990 in England, the same year Pinochet’s dictatorship crumbled. In the documentary, Francisco describes how the regime crushed hope and progression in Chile.

“The military coup [was] not only trying to take power but to change a country and to change the Chilean mentality,” Francisco says in the film.

The video goes on to show the Santiago penitentiary and photos of Chilean civilians shielding themselves from police batons. Afterwards, a graveyard filled with nameless regime victims appears as Francisco recalls his past life.

Eventually, he felt it was his duty to return to Chile.

“He had put so much of his beliefs in his life about the country on the line,” said Manuela. “He became more and more willing and open to accept that country back into his life again.”

Manuela’s father eventually returned to Chile without her.

Growing up, she feared confronting her father on his absence. But with the support of classmates and professors, Manuela confronted the issue through her art.

“It was an interesting challenge for her to figure out how to address the complexity of these issues,” said Sara Angelucci, the student gallery coordinator at the RIC and one of Manuela’s fourthyear professors. “It’s both personal and political and it weaves those two components together that create a lot of tension.”

In the video, Manuela deeply criticizes Francisco for prioritizing his country over his family, denying he knows her well despite his good intentions.

“If you are going to pick politics over your children you shouldn’t have decided to be a father,” writes Manuela in the video.

Angelucci encouraged her to add a personal aspect to the project and come to terms with something she had long pondered over.

“He was always really kind of resentful and hurt by the fact that he had to leave Chile, because he felt like what he was doing had such a purpose,” said Manuela. “I’m happy for the father I have, to be someone who fought for something they really believe in, so I’m happy for what he did.”

The exhibit runs until April 5.

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