Made in Chile during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, 8 Sobrevivientes (8 Survivors), part of Dittborn’s Airmail series, was intended to travel to be exhibited alongside its envelope. The large sheet of butcher paper, printed with images from found photographs and texts clipped from criminology magazines, anthropology textbooks, newspapers and other sources, folds for easy transport. The artist welcomes the creases, tears, and other marks that the work accumulates while in transit, noting: “The traveling is . . . the political element of my paintings.” The eight survivors represented in this work are surrogates for the thousands of people who have been censored or who were “disappeared” during the nearly two decades that Pinochet held power.
Gallery label from 2019
Living in Chile during the harsh military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Dittborn made his artworks look like letters or correspondence to circumvent official scrutiny and potential censorship. Among the earliest of Dittborn's Airmail Paintings, 8 Survivors, like the other works in the series, is meant to travel. This large sheet of butcher paper, printed with images from found photographs and texts from criminology magazines, anthropology textbooks, newspapers, and other sources, can be folded for easy transport from one exhibition venue to the next via international post. The envelope listing title, date, final destination, and postage is always displayed alongside the unfurled "painting" (actually a screenprint), indicating that it has been on the road. Dittborn, indifferent to the creases, tears, and other marks of wear the work accumulates while in transit, has explained, "The traveling is . . . the political element of my paintings." Dittborn's subterfuge has facilitated the passage of his artwork around the world; it allowed the "eight survivors" pictured in this work to slip through national borders as surrogates for the many less fortunate victims of Pinochet's regime. Discussing this work, Dittborn has described it as a "Noah's Ark — a place of connection, reunion, and transport that gives the possibility of survival."
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 80.