Status: Charges Dropped
What began as a crowd of blindfolded women chanting in the Chilean port of Valparaiso* turned into a global movement to fight domestic and institutionalized sexual violence.
Last October, LASTESIS’s performance of "Un violador en tu camino," a display of protest, art, and solidarity, became a feminist anthem for combatting the silencing of women. Translating to "A Rapist in Your Path," the song was originally staged by a large crowd of women, many of whom were blindfolded, who chanted the lyrics over a steady drumbeat and simple dance moves. When they reached the refrain, "The rapist is you," they suddenly stopped their repetitive movements, pointing their fingers straight ahead, implicating the spectators themselves. Footage of this performance quickly went viral, both in Latin America and around the globe, catapulting LASTESIS into the international eye.
LASTESIS are a feminist art and performance collective from Valparaiso, Chile. The group was formed two and a half years ago with the aim of engaging feminist theory, or "tesis," through art. They use various artistic mediums to expose and fight state violence, especially toward women. Their first performance, "Patriarcado y Capital es alianza criminal" ("Patriarchy and Capital are a Criminal Alliance"), was based on Silvia Federici's book Calibán y la Bruja, which explores the history of witch hunts and the murder of hundreds of thousands of women in America and Europe. Through the performance, LASTESIS asks: "How is our economic system linked to the exploited bodies of women?"
After the group achieved international fame for their performance of "Un violador en tu camino," LASTESIS staged the anthem as part of an intervention with another artistic collective, Fuego Acciones en Cemento (FAEC). It was "part of a series of 'barricades,' in the sense of the artistic barricades that interrupt people's day-to-day life – not with fire or physical structures, like a usual barricade, but through art," LASTESIS explained in an interview with ARC. The "barricade" represents the resistance of the Chilean people in the context of the October 2019 uprising. The intervention was staged on November 25, the international day for the elimination of violence against women, to protest institutional sexual violence perpetrated by the Carabineros.
A large component of LASTESIS’s anti-patriarchal art is their choreography: distinct movements that transition as each song unfolds in front of the audience. For example, in "Un violador en tu camino," they first shuffle from side to side, as if in a confrontation with perpetrators. Then, they squat, representing incarcerated women who are often forced to squat naked in front of police officers as a form of degradation masked as a searching technique. Finally, they point ahead to bring scrutiny to the abusers, declaring: "And the fault was not mine / nor where I was / nor how I dressed." LASTESIS’s critiques are often not merely of domestic sexual violence, but also the structures that allow it. They direct their performances toward institutionalized sexual violence against women committed by police, government officials, and other systems of power.
In fact, part of the reason why LASTESIS’s performances initially felt so prescient was because they took place at a moment when all of Chile was calling for radical change to their social and governmental systems. In October 2019, protests that began over the increased public transportation price were quickly engulfed into a larger conversation surrounding economic inequality, institutionalized violence, and calls to rewrite Chile’s constitution, which had been crafted under dictator Augusto Pinochet. During his harsh rule, music and other arts censorship proliferated: One prominent musician, Victor Jara, was tortured and killed by the police because of his protest songs.
Although the dictatorship ended in 1990, the fact that the constitution was made during the Pinochet regime has led many to view the current state of civil liberties in Chile as inextricably determined by the dictatorship era, and police are still regularly accused of atrocities. Between October and November of 2019, thousands were injured and detained by the police during demonstrations, and many artists were censored. For example, experimental group Delight Lab screened the word hambre (hunger) on a building in downtown Santiago to protest the government’s unwillingness to provide Chilean citizens with access to food, shelter, and financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after the display, the police aimed powerful spotlights at the building in order to "erase" the words. The bulbs of light made Delight Lab’s message unreadable, showing how far authorities will go to silence artists.
LASTESIS’s outspokenness also placed them on the police’s radar. On May 27, 2020, they collaborated with Russian feminist art collective Pussy Riot on a video titled "Manifesto Against Police Violence / RIOT x LASTESIS." In the video, LASTESIS is shown standing in front of a police station in Valparaiso, Chile, as they chant: "Chile is a country that humiliates those who inhabit it; patriarchy, cops, politics of state hardened to silence and blind injustice." In a way, the manifesto is a continuation of "Un violador en tu camino," which also condemns police violence against women, a reality that was exacerbated by the pandemic. COVID-19 hit Chile and nearby countries incredibly hard, fueling a rise in police violence, domestic violence, and economic inequalities that have only further jeopardized women’s safety. In "Manifesto Against Police Violence," LASTESIS and Pussy Riot denounce the police partaking in murder and assault, pushing to dismantle a force of authority that does not protect its citizens.
Ironically, their message resulted in an immediate backlash from Chilean authorities. After the video was published, the police sued LASTESIS for allegedly "inciting violence" against their institution. When asked for more evidence by the prosecutor, they investigated "Un violador en tu camino," which resulted in a second lawsuit filed with what the police felt was "stronger evidence" of hate speech.
"These harassments are absurd," says LASTESIS, "but they demonstrate that institutional violence is present all the time and that the government and the law support it, which puts us in a situation of extreme vulnerability."
The government’s attempts to censor LASTESIS didn’t deter public opinion, however. Their performance of “Un violador en tu camino” garnered over a million views on YouTube, from countries all over the world. Just a month after LASTESIS' performance, a crowd in France performed the song in front of the Eiffel Tower. In Los Angeles, over 200 women gathered to perform the song in Spanish, though it has also been translated into many languages. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted the original video, expressing solidarity with Chile. In 2020, LASTESIS made the TIME 100 list of most influential people. On January 4, 2021, the charges against LASTESIS were dismissed.
Despite the difficulties they have faced, LASTESIS have also proven that art can help foment change: on October 25, 2020, Chileans voted overwhelmingly to rewrite their constitution, heralding a potentially new age of equity and justice in the country. Nevertheless, even as this future is envisioned, institutional misogyny and police violence remain, and LASTESIS continue to speak out. In the Manifesto Against Police Violence, they declare: "The police do not guard me, my girlfriends do."
*Note: Please accept our apologies for being unable to accurately include accents on the letter "i." ARC is working to resolve this.
By Statz Tatsumi Saines, February 2020. Statz is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College, where she received a BA in English.