Pinochet survivor: memory, torture and aesthetics

September 20, 2009

Quique Cruz sums up the story of his long life journey towards the creation of an extraordinary work of art and human testimony called Archaeology of Memory: "The day after my nineteenth birthday, I was detained by Pinochet's secret police and spent one month as a desaparecido in the Villa Grimaldi torture centre.

"Later, I spent one long year in four different concentration camps in central Chile. In 1976, I was expelled from the country and was allowed to return safely only towards the end of the dictatorial regime in 1989.

"I feel that one of the most important contributions that I have to offer to the discussion about memory, torture, the relationship between terror and aesthetics, political violence, and survival, is to pick up the pieces and try to assemble the dark puzzle that is the legacy of the dictatorial period."

I first met Cruz one late spring afternoon a few years ago on the sidewalk outside Berkeley's La Pena Cultural Centre.

Cruz and fellow Chilean-born musician Rafael Manriquez were getting ready to rehearse and standing in front of the extraordinary mural portraying people's martyr Victor Jara amid a pantheon of progressive and revolutionary heroes.

Strikingly, the mural displays Jara's hands disconnected from his body but still playing his guitar while he smiles and sings.

It was a fitting place to meet two artists who are also heroic survivors of the 1973 US-backed General Pinochet-led fascist coup, which overthrew Chile's democratically elected government and resulted in the death of Chilean President Salvador Allende and coincided with the death of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

Cruz is a musical composer/multi-instrumentalist and writer who has performed, taught and recorded music since the age of 14.

He is the leader of the Latino fusion jazz trio Quijerema. Quijerema is a performing arts quartet that celebrates and expands the cultures of the Americas through original music, poetry and multi-media art installations. The band's website is

Cruz composed the score called "Tinta Verde", for the documentary film Pablo Neruda, Presente! He recently finished working with noted Emmy Winner and film composer Mark Adler on the documentary The Fall of Fujimori.

Besides performing Latin American folk music and fusion jazz, Cruz has performed onstage with Jackson Browne, Mimi Farina and Pete Seeger among others.

He's collaborated with Jackson Browne on Lives in the Balance and with many other well-known artists. His latest recording, Tinta Verde, is the score for a documentary on Pablo Neruda.

Social research scholarship is melded with Cruz's musical art and his own experience in his multi-media master work, Villa Grimaldi: Archaeology of Memory in Three Cantos. This extraordinary collaborative performance art piece includes: a musical suite, a book, a documentary film and a multimedia installation.

The work gathers the art and the experiences of six artists who were detained in one of the most infamous torture centres during the Chilean military dictatorship of Pinochet: Villa Grimaldi.

Villa Grimaldi is an installation, designed to be exhibited in a museum or cultural gallery that is a life-changing artistic experience.

Detailed information about the work and its availability for exhibition can be found at www.archeologyof

[Bill Nevins teaches Composition and Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico-Valencia and hosts the monthly Sanjevani Poetry Circle in Albuquerque. He can be contacted at .]

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