Chile, colonial practices in the past and present  

“Lost and found” Series. Label. Image by Nicolas Grum 2019-20

BY POSTED IN All Projects, Collections, Cono Sur

"I intend to expand the points of view on the notions of conservation, heritage and history by showing ancient elements next to the versions developed through this project." - Nicolás Grum


The grand collections housed in European museums have always called my attention. They are not only an opportunity to get to know important pieces of our American culture, but also an aid in understanding their histories, shedding light on complex relationships between America and Europe from the colonial period until the present.


It should be noted that a large number of Latin American archaeological objects are found in European museum collections today. This fact represents a new form of colonialism, where the elements of one culture must be studied and analysed in institutions pertaining to other cultures. Paradoxically, it is often necessary to travel to Europe to research American cultures.


This project works with pieces from the extreme south of the American continent, Patagonia, that were taken to the British Museum during explorations by the British Empire in the and centuries. Many of these th th 18 19 pieces have never been exhibited in the museum, and have remained in storage since their arrival.

My visits to the British Museum’s storage aim to fulfil three specific objectives:

1- Make sketches of a series of objects to replicate the practices of the first explorers who drew tools, people and landscapes during their travels. My objective is not only to draw the objects, but also the “landscape” that surrounds them now. In this way, these new drawings present a critical view of the museum and conservation practices, showing labels, boxes and shelves as their new context.

2- Observe, measure and register selected objects, to create a series of life-size reproductions. These do not seek to be a true copy or cast of the original, but a version that generates an alternative narrative. The pieces will be made from materials that come
from Europe, so they will travel in the opposite direction. Although I am still not sure about the materials, they could be elements that move constantly from Europe to America, like books, art magazines, everyday items or clothing. The concept was to create a series of elements that symbolically represent those inside the museum, but that “return” to South America as a way to re-establish balance.

3- To observe a selection of drawings that describe landscapes and people from Patagonia, paying full attention to every detail to distinguish and recognise all the elements that are not typical of America and its people. By extracting these foreign elements from the images, an alternative landscape that represents a distorted view will be created.


The purpose of all these works is the articulation of a dissident imaginary. These pieces are going to be inserted into the collection of the Museo Chileno Precolombino in Santiago de Chile and the Museo Martín Gusinde in Puerto Williams, mixing them with “traditional” objects to tell a story that contemplates the frictions that have emerged from the encounter between both cultures.


I have already contacted the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino of Santiago which is interested in contemporary art inspired by archaeological and anthropological collections.


Beginning on October 18, 2019, Chile has been undergoing a forceful process of social revolt that has put into question our economic, political and social system. Many of the demands heard during the protests are related to the power structures in present-day Chile that have a clear likeness to our colonial history. For example, the indiscriminate exploitation of our land and its natural resources to benefit the few, the persecution and elimination of Indigenous communities with the ultimate goal of appropriating their resources and the total indifference of the country’s elite towards fair demands from the majority of the population.

What is occurring today in Chile is bringing to light the long-standing abuses, which the collection of museum objects contributed to. Every time I watch a cargo ship full of copper leaving the coasts of Chile, I am reminded of the first European ships which took the same journeys with slaves, natural resources and the objects that have ended up in museums.

The looting culture in the past has affected Chile’s society markedly, and the continuation of these practices today is occurring at unfathomable rates. Chile is the only country to privatise water, and, as a consequence, the majority of this resource is now in private hands with no a guarantee of availability for the people of Chile. The human consumption of water is merely 8% of the national consumption, with 82% going to agriculture, 7% to large industries and 3% to mining.

After seeing the Selknam canoe in the storage facilities of the British Museum, conscious that in the Museum of Puerto Williams no examples exist, I remembered the dispossession and relationship Latin Americans = have with absence and memories, with what has disappeared and with what we have lost and hope to find.