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Readorama: Artist Liliana Wilson focuses on Chile’s ‘disappeared’

UMKC professor Norma E. Cantu
UMKC professor Norma E. Cantu

Sometime after 1973, Liliana Wilson learned that the bodies of two men had washed up on a nearby beach.

She went down and looked. Although she didn’t know them, she and others considered them to be two of the “disappeared.” Those were the estimated 3,000 dissidents who went missing during the regime of Augusto Pinochet, who’d ruled Chile since a 1973 military coup.

Just what happened to them and who was responsible remains a source of emotional debate and turmoil in Chile.

In 1977, Wilson rendered a version the two men in “Los Desaparecidos en el Cielo,” or “The Disappeared in Heaven,” a color pencil drawing whose graceful, surreal lines stand in stark juxtaposition to the brutality referenced by its title.

That’s one quality of Wilson’s work that remains compelling, said Norma E. Cantú, who has edited a new volume of essays describing Wilson’s work.

“She paints these two bodies and they look so peaceful, as if they are asleep on the beach,” said Cantú, professor of Latina/Latino Studies and English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“It is a beautiful image, but anyone knowing the history will see that title and immediately will be brought back to that time.”

Cantú edited “Ofrenda: Liliana Wilson’s Art of Dissidence and Dreams,” soliciting essays from contributors who discuss Wilson’s art in context of the political turmoil of her native Chile. “Los Desaparecidos” is one of many artworks reproduced.

Wilson, who was born in Valparaiso, Chile and earned a law degree at the Catholic University at Valparaiso, left her homeland like many others. Moving to Texas in 1977, she studied art at several colleges there and today lives in Austin.

“I like to promote others, to put the flashlight on people who have been in the dark,” Cantú said. “Like all good art, Wilson’s work touches viewers subliminally. Her work is subtle, pleasing to the eye, but it still can change the way one sees the world.”

Wilson is expected to deliver a presentation at UMKC in April, Cantú said. To learn more about “Ofrenda,” go to Texas A&M University Press at TAMUPress.com.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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