For painter Eduardo Rapiman, art is about more than just self-expression.

At an exhibition of his paintings Wednesday night at La Casa Cultural, Rapiman said his work represents the collective struggle of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche people to maintain their identity and culture in modern Chilean society. Rapiman presented the historical and cultural traditions of the Mapuche, addressing an audience of about 25 undergraduates, faculty and staff.

The event was sponsored by the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies. The Council’s program assistant, Sarah Morrill, helped coordinate the evening’s presentation and exhibition. Morrill said the exhibit is “a little bit different” from events the program normally offers.

“People respond to it more than a lecture,” she said.

Glenton Davis ’07 agreed.

“I actually find most of his pieces very moving,” he said.

Davis said he admired Rapiman’s artistic style. Rapiman’s layered textures and bright contrasting colors reminded him of the art of Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Davis said.

Rapiman has displayed his art in several international shows, but the Yale exhibit is his first in the United States. His paintings decorate various walls throughout the first floor of La Casa.

One depicts the downcast face of an elderly Mapuche man. Another features a nude woman lying supine as a stream of blood pours from a wound in her chest. A third shows a lone Mapuche man holding his blood-covered hands before him while looking into the sky.

Rapiman said through an English translator that his art is symptomatic of recent social movements to reinstate the aspects of Mapuche culture that have been marginalized by mainstream Chilean society. The Mapuche, he said, were one of the few indigenous groups to resist the Spanish conquest of South America and retain their traditions and language over the centuries.

Mapuche are proud of their indigenous heritage, he said.

Some students said they came to hear Rapiman’s views on the Mapuche struggle for autonomy.

“I took a class last semester where we talked about indigenous art [and] the Mapuche people,” Ashley Bowman ’06 said. “I want to see how his view differs.”

Rapiman also described his involvement in the artistic group La Agrupacion de Creadores Mapuche.

“It’s a movement of contemporary creators, [a] group of contemporary artists,” he said through the translator.

The movement includes writers, artists, musicians and actors who are dedicated to promoting and advancing the artistic expression of the Mapuche, he said.

Morrill said Rapiman’s art will remain on display at La Casa through Friday, after which the exhibit will travel to Harvard and then to the University of Illinois. All of the paintings on display are for sale.

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