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February 2015 version

SUR is a documentary project about a Mapuche family reclaiming the right to live on their ancestral land in Patagonia, Argentina, in a major case of post-colonial landgrabbing.

A multimedia is also available

The project

A tale about the possibility of living in peace with each other by re-learning to respect nature

The facts

In Argentinian Patagonia, a group of native Mapuche families, namely the one formed by Atílio, Rosa and Franco Curiñanco, are resisting and peacefully battling against the italian Benetton Group, for the right to live in their ancestral land, where they were born and which belongs to them by oral tradition.

The extension of the lands acquired by Benetton in the 90’s is said to be approximately 900.000 hectares, nearly the size of a country like Cyprus (more than 10 times the area of New York city).

The land reclaimed by the Mapuche families is around 500 ha.

The Benetton Group has seen its legal ownership of the land recognized.

The Mapuche community, has been cleared from the accusation of usurpating the land.
The community claims that the right to live there belongs to them by traditional, oral, pre-colonial law.
In addition, the fact that such a vast amount of land is in the hands of one single legal entity is considered not acceptable for them.

Each part conducts a legal battle for the recognition of what they consider their full rights, although economic, communicative and legal forces are overwhelmingly more powerful on one side.

In hashtags it would be #landgrab #mapuche #patagonia #benetton #davidagainstgoliath

The story, the words

Beyond the dualism of a global legal battle, I think this story deserves to be told and become the start of a much broader reflection on the vital relationship between man and land, than cannot be synthetized only through possession of the land, but also with the meaning of belonging to the land, as it is so intensely exemplified by Atílio’s words (retranscripted by me).

“For you, it’s simple, your culture is written. You can put it into books, and bring them with you. Our culture is oral and is linked to the land, and you cannot move land. A man with the purest Mapuche blood in his veins is nothing without his land, because at the moment he leaves, he looses his culture, and his identity. La sangre no es nada sin la tierra.”

The coincidence

I met Atílio, Rosa and Franco Curiñanco – their grandson – by pure coincidence, during a journey to Esquel, Argentina in december 2011. During the hour or so I passed with them, in which I took some pictures, I found fascinating the way they spoke about their intimate relationship with land, almost as if land was a member of the family. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend more time together, but I decided one day I would come back and try to tell their story.

In november 2013, thanks also to a crowdfunding campaign, I was able to go back and spend two weeks living with them, documenting their daily life.

My vision

I am very much interested in who these people are and how they live everyday their relationship with land, and this I have tried to investigate in my pictures.

The facts around the legal battle have been properly accounted for already, and should obviously not be overseen.

But I feel that the resistance of this family is only the actual episode of a longer story: battle for land is battle for belonging, and ultimately there is no life without belonging.

To understand these concepts, I think there is a need for some cultural instruments that have been either widely overlooked, forgotten, exploited, distorted and even despised for a number of reasons by the mainstream culture.

My objective has been to investigate new and ancient meanings of these concepts, and to to tell a positive story about man and land.

With these pictures, I tried to show what lies behind the enormous spiritual force that drives these people in their unrelenting effort to reclaim both their ancestral land and the true meaning of being Mapuche “Gente de la tierra”, with the new dignity that it brings.

Through the tale of the everyday life, I tried to depict the beauty of their relationship with nature, family, hard work, good times, sometimes solitude and also injustice; ultimately, if I may, with existence.

As I already said, it has been a truly meaningful experience both as a person and a photographer, I hope the pictures do reflect not only their story, but also my sincere admiration and fondness for them.

In November 2014 The National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INAI) has formally recognised the Santa Rosa Leleque Mapuche community’s ownership of 535 hectares in Chubut, Patagonia.

The Benetton Group has an official position about this story (it can be found here); the italian Tv investigative journalistic program “Report” has dedicated part of an episode (in italian); a 75′ docufilm by Ale Corte has been produced in 2008.


All images © Tommaso Barsali 2012-2018. powered by wordpress. mimino, slideshowpro, medialoot.