“The Palm of the Desert” – A Symbol of Injustice, Sorrow, and Torment Writ Large – Nature and Life

Photo by:  Marcos Escalier, Creative Commons Attribution Licence
In the middle of the Atacama Desert, a giant hand rises from the ground like the remains of an ancient civilisation. In reality, it’s a pretty modern sculpture—an art piece called ‘Mano del Desierto’—created by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal in honour of the victims of injustice and torture during the military regime in Chile.

The sculpture has a base of iron and cement, and stands 11 m tall. Funded by Corporación Pro Antofagasta, a local booster organisation, the sculpture was inaugurated on March 28, 1992. It is located 75 km south of the city of Antofagasta, and 350 m away from Route 5, which crosses the Atacama Desert plateau from north to south. It has since become a point of interest for tourists travelling Route 5, which forms part of the Pan-American Highway. Unfortunately, the sculpture is continuously targeted by graffiti, and therefore requires frequent maintenance and cleaning.

Photo by:  Mr Hicks46, Creative Commons Attribution Licence
Mario Irarrázabal studied philosophy and art at the University of Notre Dame in United States and later studied sculpture with the German sculptor Otto Waldemar in West Berlin. He has several similar gigantic hand sculptures on display at various locations around the world. One of them is at Brava Beach in Punta del Este, Uruguay and is known by various names such as Hombre emergiendo a la vida (Man Emerging into Life), Monumento los Dedos (Monument of the Fingers), or Monumento al Ahogado (Monument to the Drowned). Another hand comes out from the ground at Juan Carlos I Park in Madrid, Spain and was installed in 1987.