The seizure and destruction of artworks is a recurring problem that usually escalates in association with humanitarian disasters resulting from armed conflict. This phenomenon not only has dramatic consequences for a people’s memory and constitutes a threat to the World Heritage, it reaffirms the oppression and domination that has taken place in many parts of the world throughout human history.

The world became aware of the true scope of plunder in the late 1930s, when Adolf Hitler organized the systematic, industrial-scale theft of great master works housed in European museums and in private art collections, many of them owned by persons of Jewish descent. The theft and destruction of priceless pieces did not end there, however, and the successive conflicts that have plagued the Middle East even to this day illustrate clearly the great extent of looting and targeted theft during wartime.

Through Expolio/Plunder, artists Josefina Guilisasti, Diego Martínez and Francisco Uzabeaga seek to problematize the value of art and its role in housing the memory of a people. They also examine the quality that makes artworks objects of desire and symbols of power, and offer a reflection on how art can become an emblem of the human drama associated with armed struggle.
La usurpación y destrucción de obras de arte se constituye en una problemática recurrente, que usualmente surge asociada a la catástrofe humanitaria provocada por los conflictos bélicos. Este fenómeno de dramáticas consecuencias para la memoria de los pueblos y atentatorio contra el patrimonio de la humanidad, es una reafirmación de poderío y dominación que ha ocurrido en diferentes zonas geográficas a lo largo de la historia de la humanidad.

El mundo conoció el verdadero alcance del expolio a fines de la década de 1930, cuando Adolf Hitler organizó el robo sistemático y a escala industrial de las grandes obras maestras que atesoraban los museos europeos y los coleccionistas de arte, muchos de ellos de origen judío. No obstante, el robo y destrucción de piezas invaluables no se detuvo entonces, pues los conflictos sucesivos que han afectado al Medio Oriente hasta nuestros días, son una muestra clara de que el saqueo y el robo por encargo proliferan de la mano de la guerra.

A través de Expolio, los artistas Josefina Guilisasti, Diego Martínez y Francisco Uzabeaga buscan problematizar en torno al valor del arte y su rol como espacio de memoria de los pueblos. Junto con esto, indagan sobre la cualidad que hace de las obras objetos de deseo y símbolos de poder, planteando, además, una reflexión sobre la constitución del arte en emblema del drama humano asociado a las luchas armadas.

Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos – Santiago, Chile

Iglesia de Ellingen/Ellingen Church
2015, Santiago, Chile
Oil on canvas
3.15 × 4m

Ellingen is a town in the Bavarian district of Weißenburg-Gunzenhausen (Germany) that is known for its Baroque and Rococo architecture. The area was bombed by Allied troops near the end of WWII, and upon entering the city in 1945 they found a storehouse of furniture, carpets and art hidden away in one of its churches. Most of these items had been seized by the Nazis from their victims in France and Holland.

Ellingen - HD Animation

The Hermitage, situated in a Tsarist palace complex in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg, is one of the most important royal art galleries in the world. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution the property became state property. This painting shows the museum’s gallery of 18th century Flemish art, completely emptied of the treasures formerly housed there. A considerable part of the collection was removed by the Soviets to safeguard them from the imminent arrival of Nazi troops, while some remaining items were looted by German soldiers once they occupied the city.

Hermitage - HD Animation

Museo Hermitage/The Hermitage Museum( Russia)
2014, Santiago-Chile
Oil on canvas
4.1 x 3 m

Mezquita de Alepo/Great Mosque of Aleppo
2016, Santiago, Chile
Oil on canvas
5.10 x 2.89 m

Located in the northern Syrian region of Aleppo, one of the country’s most densely populated regions, the Great Mosque is one of the world’s foremost expressions of Islamic art and architecture. The structure dates back to the 8th century A.D., during the rule of the Ummayad caliph, who erected it upon the ruins of an ancient Byzantine church. Over the past ten centuries and more the building has been transformed after suffering major damage from successive invasions, fires and earthquakes. Recently, in 2013, the historic minaret was destroyed in the bombings that have wracked the region during the civil war raging in Syria.

Aleppo - HD Animation

Apamea is an ancient Greco-Roman citadel located 50 km from Hama, Syria, one of the country’s most important heritage zones. After the civil war broke out in 2011, pitting the Syrian army against insurgents seeking to topple Syrian ruler Bashar Al-Asad, this region has been seriously damaged by the bombing and looting of many archeological sites. This painting, which is based on a satellite image from 2013, shows the hundreds of illegal excavations that have been carried out at the site.

Apamea - HD Animation

2016, Santiago, Chile
Oil on canvas
4 x 4.2 m