22 June 2021

The Youth Fighting to Defend their Ancestral Beliefs

22 June 2021 - Written by Laurence Cornet

In a series mixing portraits with atmospheric landscape shots, Cristobal Olivares adopts a poetic approach to capture the century-long fight of the Mapuche to recover their ancestral land. Stepping away from the emergency of news, he focused on the stories, hopes, and future of their youth.

For decades, Chile has been the theater of land disputes. Particularly vivid in the South, in the Araucanía region, the struggle has been carried out by their right to recover ancestral lands.

The profit-oriented forest industry has deprived the region’s natural resources, impoverishing the floor and leaving the Mapuche with a few barren stretches of land. For years, they have been protesting and mainly met police violence in response.

Having worked on reportages related to the forest industry, Chilean photographer Cristobal Olivares started to delve into Mapuche’s movement, focusing on the youth. “Police repression is purposely targeting the new generation, who are supposed to be the next community leaders. Yet, resistance is always approached as a whole in the media and I wanted to do a story within the story and explore the psychological aspect of it”, he explains.

His ongoing series brings together many portraits of the youth who have been victims of police violence - from Brandon Hernandez Huentecol, who was shot in the back and still has over 80 lead bullets in his body, to Moisés and Belén Curamil (15 and 19), respectively son and daughter of Alberto Curamil, a Mapuche political prisoner and 2019 Goldman environmental prize, which he received in jail. And while the portraits remain mainly anonymous, their faces hidden behind traditional Mapuche objects or darkened by a shadow, they talk to the general cause they are fighting for.

Impregnated with details of Mapuche culture, they also hint at two possible paths for the young generation - to keep fighting or to accept losing their heritage. “It was important for me to give a sense of the future. It’s easy to see who is tired, who wants to study and move on, and who wants to continue the fight”, Olivares says.

Aside from the portraits, he documented the process of recovery - basically, a land squatting where the community perform ceremonies to ask and gather strength for the community, set bone fires and share meals. “I try not to be too direct when I approach a project. In this particular case, I didn’t want the photos to be spectacular but rather keep a sense of mystery to make sense of the Mapuche’s cosmovision and visually translate their beliefs”, he adds.

And with this series, he turns upside down the image of Mapuche as terrorists generally published in local media and helps people apprehend another, more subtle narrative.

All photos © Cristobal Olivares, from the series The Eternity of Tomorrow


Cristóbal Olivares is a Chilean documentary photographer with a special interest in social affairs. He is the co-founder of Buen Lugar, an independent editorial initiative that publishes books and photography zines.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb and the international photo editor at Le Monde.


This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

3 minutes

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