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A tree in a football stadium

June 15, 2010

On the face of it planting a tree in the middle of a football pitch might seem like a bizarre memorial act. To then play a game of football around the tree even stranger. Furniture designer Sebastian E photographed the process back in 2006. The stunning shots were blogged on WordPress earlier today (see below).

But as strange as the event Sebastian E‘s photographs document, that’s nothing in comparison to the act it remembered – that period of time in Chilean history when the National Stadium of Chile was used as an internment camp after the Chilean coup of 1973.

Pinochet comes to power in Chile in 1973 after a coup which ousts the then Salvador Allende from his position. Shortly after that the national stadium gets used as a detention facility, with tens of thousands of people brought to the main stadium. Changing rooms, corridors and various other areas of the complex are used to house them. People are tortured. People are shot.

It doesn’t require much detail for the imagination to crank into overdrive. Whilst the horrors may be something of the past, merely considering what must have been like makes the the relatively empty stadium in Sebastian E’s pictures take on an eery quality.

In that instant a monument to a national obsession – one I’m not that interested in despite my best intentions – has been transformed into something dark. It has been exploited. Turned into something against the very nation of sports lovers it was originally built for. Imagination runs riot. What must have been like.

Detainee at the stadium in 1973 Mike Gatehouse had this to say in 1998 on the BBC website:

“We were taken to the National Stadium, Chile’s equivalent of Wembley, a large football stadium with other sports facilities clustered around it. We were herded into a mustering area which was full of newly arrived prisoners in white coats, doctors and orderlies from several Santiago hospitals which had been raided that day, victims of a savage proscription by the far-right dominated Chilean Medical Association, which accused them of having failed to go on strike against the legal government.

The ‘cells’ into which we were herded were the team changing rooms. There were 130 prisoners in ours, and at night we were so tightly packed that we could sleep only by lining up in rows and lying down ‘by numbers’, dovetailing heads and feet.

We were guarded by soldiers and there were sand-bagged machine-gun emplacements at intervals around the walk-way that formed a circuit under the angle of the stadium stands.”

It is remembering the juxtaposition of a sport, politics and violence which makes the Chilean memorial act of 2006 considerably more sombre. Regardless of your interest in sport – my interest in football for example is cursory to say the least – such events remind us of how certain things in life are ‘of the people’. Riding roughshod over such things can and should echo throughout history.

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One Comment
  1. They killed Victor Jara in that stadium. Fantastic writer and performer. Always makes me sad to think about it.

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