Keep Up the High Five: "La Mano Del Desierto"
Five prehistoric-sized fingers break through a sandpaper-like plateau just off the Panamerican Highway, 75 miles south of Antofagasta, Chile.
“La Mano Del Desierto” or “The Hand of the Desert” flags road-trippers with the universal “stop” gesture. Visiting the 36-foot sculpture has become a right of passage for Chileans traveling up north, but not all who visit play nice.
Escaping the Chile’s copper Mecca, Antofagasta, to sample other northern cities means crossing a lengthy stretch of pavement. Miles after driver’s delirium begins to strike - unless you’ve fallen asleep at the wheel – the conspicuous massive hand offers a welcomed pit stop to parents weary from hearing, “Are we there yet?”
The hand is on route to the Paranal Observatory in northern Antofagasta. The nearby “Very Large Telescope” Hotel, called the Residencia, served as a backdrop for the 2008 James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace.”
”It’s a worldly piece of art. It has potential for even more tourism because of its location,” said to Claudia Lopez, a reporter for El Nortero.
The remoteness of its location also positions it as an easy target for people with a can of spray paint. Undaunted by the prospect of what lies beneath the giant hand reaching out of the ground, some leave their own artistic mark. Vandals slap on painted names, profanities or phrases as if to claim the work of Chilean sculptor, Mario Irarrázabal, as their own. The half-exposed palm, composed of iron and cement, offers a blank canvas.
La Corporación Pro Antofagasta (PROA) commissioned the hand, completed in 1992. Now PROA members must complete a biannual hand washing, or more accurately a hand scrubbing. Twice PROA posted signs asking visitors to look, but don’t touch. It appears to be a tough policy to enforce. Both times up-to-no-good individuals destroyed the signs.
“There is no campaign or notifications that would raise awareness among visitors. The story is always the same,” wrote Lopez.
On Saturday July 23, PROA members and volunteers will once
again hand over 11 hours to give it a thorough cleaning. Presient of PROA Carlos Tarragó called the sculpture “a
landmark of Antofagasta” that
should be in “perfect condition for tourists and foreigners who visit.”
PROA still has hope that visitors will stop defacing the landmark. They believe that Chileans, and especially those who live in the area, should feel a sense of pride for the work.
“We’re calling the community to respect and care for this artwork that distinguishes us. We invite Antofagastinos to join us in this commendable action on behalf of one of our most recognized symbols in the desert,” said Rafal Visedo, vice president fo PROA.
According to Environmental Graffiti Magazine, the hand is consistent with the work the artist first showed in Chile in 1970. Irarrázabal used the human figure to express emotions like injustice loneliness, sorrow and torture. The exaggerated size of the “Hand in the Desert” is said to emphasize human vulnerability and helplessness. The abundance of graffiti on the piece suggests that Irarrázabal successfully conveyed both: It’s vulnerable to vandalism and helpless to prevent it.
In spite of the consistent grafitti problems, PROA said that they won’t be throwing in the towel. They said they will continue to preserve this important part of Chilean heritage. Thanks to their efforts, this masterpiece of the Atacama Desert remains a popular rest stop. Even with the grafitti, the hand still stands as a culturally relevant object and an important piece of art according to Lopez.
Who has the most memorable experience visiting “La Mano Del Desierto?” Please leave your story in the comment section.