(New York, NY) – An artists’ group in Chile has effectively had its work ‘erased’ this week, purportedly with the tacit approval of government authorities, and has received a growing number of threats against their work raising awareness of the impacts of COVID-19. PEN America today decried law enforcement efforts to censor the work of Delight Lab as an attack on artistic freedom, and said it was part of a disturbing trend of Chile’s growing hostility towards freedom of expression during the coronavirus crisis.

In an attempt to raise awareness about the thousands of people affected by COVID-19 who have not received adequate treatment, Delight Lab had been conducting a series of “proyectorazo” actions in Santiago, projecting visuals and text on public spaces. On May 18, they screened the word hambre, or hunger, on the Telefónica building in downtown Santiago. The next day, they displayed the words humanidad and solidaridad (humanity and solidarity), but shortly thereafter, a vehicle apparently under police escort directed floodlights at the building, effectively “erasing” Delight Lab’s artwork.

“Following a number of artistic interventions meant to inspire hope and solidarity in the face of COVID-19, members of Delight Lab have instead found themselves fearing for their physical safety,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The threats these artists have been receiving are deplorable attempts to silence and intimidate artists at a time when they and their work are more important than ever. Chilean authorities’ apparent involvement in Delight Lab’s censorship also indicates that this is part of a growing trend of restricting free expression during the pandemic. We condemn the harassment of Delight Lab and call on the Chilean government to both cease any censorship efforts and take strides to protect artists from violence and intimidation.”

After the light displays, members of Delight Lab received emails and messages on social media attacking them. Their photos were circulated online, including sensitive information including ID numbers, addresses, and other private data. Delight Lab’s Instagram account was reportedly hacked and deleted. Diego Schalper, a member of the right wing party Renovación Nacional, described the artists as “miserable people,” calling for those behind the projections to be investigated and prosecuted. 

In recent months, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a trend of growing censorship and repression of creative expression in Chile and other Latin American countries. In Chile, government attacks on freedom of expression have been exacerbated in the wake of massive and unexpected social upheaval that started in November 2019 and has continued recently despite the lockdown.

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. The first episode of ARC’s monthly podcast, “¡El Arte no Calla!” discusses the state of artistic freedom in Chile today. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.