Piri Reis, a 16th-century Ottoman navigator, mapped the South American coastline – the portion corresponding to modern-day Argentina – before the arrival of the Europeans. No one can yet fathom how he did it, dotting those lands with strange, mythological creatures, compiling the image of a world that could only be intuited and narrated by reference to myth. Centuries later, when the newborn nations of Argentina and Chile needed to expand in order to ride the gathering wave of capitalism, they advanced on these unknown and deserted southern territories, running the same process in reverse; creating myths to blot out what they knew was there but were determined to amputate from history and the maps.
In both countries there lay a terrain, suitably empty and inhospitable, they alleged, from which a mere handful of inhabitants had to be expelled – or as a last resort exterminated – for no more reason than being an obstacle to the nation’s progress. In parallel, this process and the myths it gave rise to – the savage Indian, the silent desert, the white man’s civilizing mission – became fixed in the collective mindscape through aesthetic media such as literature, whose pages, full of textual violence, supplied symbolic figures to the ruling elites for over a century.
‘PIRI REIS, La continuación de un mito’ is a work that unfolds around absences and empty spaces. Its purpose, however, is not so much to rewrite a story as to conjure the recurrent question of what other narratives, with their own intrinsic importance, were written out of the official version.
The poetics constructed from the gestures of members of the Mapuche people, exemplifying a whole continent’s resistance; the presence, or very existence, of those bodies that dance and fight are living testimony to a force that projects a present and future beyond the role that the official history chose to assign them.