Strait of Magellan: The Water Border

A journey around the world in the 21st century. Discover the southern end of the American continent.

Logo of the cycle "Let's Turn Around the World" (2019) by Laura LimónOriginal Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

500 years have passed since the first circumnavigation of the Earth (1519-1522), an excellent excuse to take the pulse of the cultural and social panorama of the planet in which we live, with its lights and its shadows, listening to the voices of the communities that live in the places we would reach if we repeated that journey today.Also remembering those that we cannot hear, because colonization ended them.

We have prepared for it Let’s Turn Around the World, a cycle made up of several exhibitions.

jetarktétqal (2014) by Leopoldo PizarroOriginal Source: Leopoldo Pizarro

Strait of Magellan: The Water Border

In this exhibition we are entering the Strait of Magellan to learn about the history of the First Peoples of this extreme region –Kawésqar, Yagán, Selk’nam and Aónikenk or Southern Tehuelches –, thanks to a selection of objects from the MNA collection and photographs by Leopoldo Pizarro, and to understand the sustainability challenges facing this region through the works of current artists grouped in the Plataforma Vértices.

An approach, to a sense of the Strait... (2018) by Alex von BischhoffshausenOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

The Selk’nam Myth of the Strait of Magellan

There is a Selk’nam myth that tells how their ancestors were dominated by a terrible woman, Táita, who did not allow them to drink water or hunt. The owl K’aux called on his grandson, the hummingbird Táiyin, to free them from the tyranny of Táita. Táiyin was very skilled in the use of the sling and with one shot from his weapon he hit the head of Táita, who died instantly, but her blood splashed all the sources of water.

An approach, to a sense of the Strait... (2018) by Alex von BischhoffshausenOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

To clean the water, Táiyin threw stones with his sling in all directions. One of the stones fell to the north with such force that the earth broke and sea water entered, thus forming the Strait of Magellan and separating the home of the Selk'nam, the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, from the mainland.

Magellan's Expedition, 1520

Magellan's expedition crosses the strait that bears his name in November 1520. They were the first Europeans to reach the southern end of the American continent. Antonio Pigafetta, expedition's chronicler, wrote:

“This strait is 110 leagues long, which is 440 miles and a width –more or less– about half a league and it flows into another sea, called Pacific Sea, surrounded by very high mountains with snow peaks (…)We call this strait the «Patagonic Strait»; in which there are, every half league, very safe ports, excellent waters, firewood –although only cedar–, fish, sardines, mussels and celery”.

Kawésqar spearhead, "tant-tarrh" (1801-1900)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

The First Peoples of Patagonia

Yagán basket ("tawe’la") model (1801-1900)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

From the arrival of the Magellan expedition to Patagonia, sporadic encounters occurred between the First Peoples and the Europeans.

The effective colonization began at the end of the 19th century and had terrible consequences for its inhabitants. Sheep ranches were established on their lands, and the authorities and settlers viewed indigenous communities as obstacles to what they understood as “progress”.

The pressure of the ranchers, the diseases of European origin and the action of the missionaries caused a brutal decrease of the Kawésqar and Yagán population.

Tehuelche bolas, "yachiko". (1801-1900)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

The settlers were displacing the Aónikenk to the less productive areas, until they abandoned their lands in Chile to settle in Argentina.

And in Tierra del Fuego they hired hitmen to massacre the Selk'nam, those who did not die in the extermination campaigns were sent to the Salesian mission of San Rafael, where disease and uprooting ended the lives of many.

Selk'nam arrowhead, "heurh" (1801-1900)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología


The guanaco was the basis of the Selk'nam diet, along with rodents such as the tuco tuco, birds, mollusks, sea lions, beached whales, fish and vegetables. The guanaco was so important that "food" and "guanaco meat" had the same name: jepr.

The bow –ha– and the arrows –yah– were the main weapons of the Selk’nam. The bows were made by specialized craftsmen, k-haäl-chin. Hunting was a passion for men, who gained prestige by being good hunters, warriors and archers.

Tehuelche bolas, "chumé" (1801-1900)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología


When the Aónikenk began to use the horse, around 1700, the bolas were displacing the bow and arrows as a hunting weapon. Their main prey were the guanaco and the rhea or ñandú, a large bird similar to the ostrich.

The favorite hunting technique was to surround the prey: the horsemen formed a circle that they closed and threw the bolas to the animals that had been trapped in it.

Yagán canoe ("ánan") model (1801-1900)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología


In the past, the canoe, ánan, was the center of Yagán family life. In it they moved, hunted, fished and collected shellfish. In the center, there was always a fire lit, to warm up at sea and cook on their travels. The canoe models were exchanged for European products with the crews of the ships that arrived at the area. Currently, they continue to make them for sale to tourists.

Today the Yagán population in Chile is about 180 people. They live in Villa Ukika, Puerto Williams and Punta Arenas. In Ushuaia (Argentina), there is the Yagán Paiakoala community.

Yagán basketry (2020) by Daniela GallardoOriginal Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

Daniela Gallardo, Yagán basketry

We weaving to remind people who are gone, to remember the places where childhood passed and not to lose identity and cultural wealth”. Daniela Gallardo.

Daniela is a basketmaker artist and also president of the Yagán community of Punta Arenas, Löm Sapakuta. The most characteristic type of basket is called tawe’la and is made with simple half-hitch stitch over a coiled foundation technique. For the gaiíchim baskets, a knotted weave is employed. Another type of Yagán basketry weaving is ulon steapa , also known as “round and round”.

Kawésqar harpoon point, "salta" (1801-1900)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología


Kawésqar means "human beings": "kawes" is "skin" and "qar" is "bone". Harpoon points of this type, called salta, were used to hunt sea lions, which, together with mollusks, were the basis of traditional food.

Many of the Kawésqar weapons were made with whale bone, which they obtained from beached whales. When they found a beached whale, it was cause for celebration, they warned neighboring groups with smoke signals and they used to take advantage of the large amount of food it provided to carry out ceremonies.

jetarktétqal (2014) by Leopoldo PizarroOriginal Source: Leopoldo Pizarro

Leopoldo Pizarro

Here, Kawésqar wæs, æs tæs pe
Essays and thoughts near the shore

c´ékena-jetowana-kstai (2014) by Leopoldo PizarroOriginal Source: Leopoldo Pizarro

The work of photographer Leopoldo Pizarro has been navigating the Kawésqar wæs (Kawésqar territory) for 9 years, near the shore of the Kawésqar community living in Puerto Edén, listening and looking the ways of looking-thinking about the territory, in dialogue with the way the Kawésqar use-think-name it.

jáutok-wæs jáu (2014) by Leopoldo PizarroOriginal Source: Leopoldo Pizarro

Leopoldo has been able to experiment in daily coexistence with some of the members of the Kawésqar community in Puerto Edén, sailing together and wandering their places, learning about their travel stories and tales, and traveling together, through conversations and silences, that have made the photographer’s listening-looking a little closer to that of the community.

Plataforma Vértices by Plataforma VérticeOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Plataforma Vértices

Vértices is a research platform and net creation space made up of artists, scientists and university professors. Vértices approaches the territory as a laboratory for transdisciplinary experimentation of art, science, history and geography.

Plataforma Vértices by Plataforma VérticeOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Vértices carries out maritime, terrestrial and astronomical explorations, mapping the problems that occur in a territory, through seminars, art-science residencies, publications and exhibitions, generating exchanges with different entities.

Plataforma Vértices by Plataforma VérticeOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices


The works selected for this exhibition are the result of the residency in "Tráns-ito", carried out in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica Region, in the framework of the fifth centenary of the circumnavigation.

“Tráns-ito” generated an exchange of ideas and has led to several exhibitions in Chile and Spain. In Strait of Magellan: the water border it is presented in a new exhibition montage in which contemporary works interact with the Museo Nacional de Antropología collections.

Conchales (Shell Middens) (2018) by Javier CanalesOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Javier Canales

Conchales (Shell middens)

The original peoples of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego sailed for thousands of years with their tree bark canoes through these territories and next to their coastal camps they were generating the shell middens, which were circular depressions formed by mounds of shells.

The idea of the representation of these "conchales" from the copy of shells and their subsequent reproduction in porcelain pieces in large quantities, is what generates the possibility for the artist to establish a conceptual rescue paying tribute to these peoples and their sense of reciprocity with nature.

Visual cartography of the territory (2012-2015) by Thierry DupradouOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Javier Canales

Visual cartography of the territory

The photographer Thierry Dupradou has traveled with his camera the Magellan pampas, the Strait of Magellan and its adjacent channels, the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn and the Antarctic.

In these images, removes the horizons and the precise contour of the forms, to focus on the almost abstract details, on the whimsical drawings of geology and vegetation, he brings us closer to the essence of that environment.

Olfactory cartography of the territory (2018) by Rodrigo MolinaOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Rodrigo Molina

Olfactory cartography of the territory

Rodrigo Molina has collected the aromas from the coast of the Strait of Magellan to carry out an olfactory cartography of this region, at the same time sensory synthesis of its landscapes and evocation of both the First Peoples, great connoisseurs of the region's biodiversity, and the spice trade, the purpose of the journey that 500 years ago would forever change the destiny of this corner of the planet.

Each tube preserves an aromatic native plant of the area. The map shows the places where the plants were collected.

Nemowa Mountains (2019) by Tono CarbajoOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Tono Carbajo

12,616 km from here
Reinterpreting the landscapes of the Strait of Magellan

Clouds, mountains or coasts are mathematically fractals, thus a small stone is essentially the same as a mountain.

Tono Carbajo takes his photographs on stones of the San Isidro Lighthouse, coal from the Strait of Magellan, tree remains from the Torres del Paine fire, volcanic earth of Pali Aike and stones of Tierra del Fuego. They are landscapes that do not exist, photographs of hidden mountains, of lakes that are not, but will always be.

An approach, to a sense of the Strait... (2018) by Alex von BischhoffshausenOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Alex von Bischhoffshausen

An approach, to a sense of the Strait of Magellan, through the irruption of the gaze

A strait is a maritime channel that separates two lands and joins two seas. Or is it on the contrary? Is it crossed or traversed? It all depends on the sense of the gaze, and on the journey, whether it arises from the territory or from the maritime space.

In both cases, it is a geographical area that determines everything that happens around it, physically and socially, for those who have inhabited it or for those who have used it as a route of communication.

Níveo (Snowy) (2009-2011) by Magdalena CorreaOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Magdalena Correa

Níveo (Snowy)

Magdalena Correa investigates geographical and human territories on the limit of our daily life, which either for economic or natural reasons have developed social strategies and survival mechanisms on the edge of unreality.

In Níveo she shows the only Chilean civilian town, called Villa las Estrellas, in Fildes Bay, in the Antarctica. The Antarctica is one of the points with the largest freshwater reserve on the planet, and its seabed produces a thermal regulating effect indispensable in the face of global warming.

Austral Chart (2018) by Teresa AninatOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Teresa Aninat

Austral Chart

Teresa Aninat takes the disposition of the planets in the Strait of Magellan on October 20, 1520. To analyze that celestial landscape, Aninat appealed to the astrologer Javier Ibacache, reading four astral charts.

After this she traveled to the strait taking with her some iron pieces that reproduced the aspects –angular distances that exist between two or more planets– of the astral charts consulted. These pieces were submerged in the waters of the place, taking deep what was once above the sky.

Froward rutter (2018-2019) by Pablo QuerciaOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Pablo Quercia

Illuminated rutters

Pablo Quercia's work shows us a tour of the edges of the Strait of Magellan through a series of engravings that the artist has made during his navigations since 2016 through the lighthouses of the extreme south.

Understanding the edges we can see our inner sea. We return to the origin to understand our present, which is reconsidered; at this point a rutter is drawn to re-discover our territory. This act is protected by the light of the lighthouses that open the gap that accuses, indicates and sings a position and guides this step.

Interlacing the sphere for an unfinished cartography. Notebook (2018-2020) by Santi MaesoOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Santi Maeso

Interlacing the sphere for an unfinished cartography

The artwork is a cross of views between the past and the present in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica Region, that talks about the journey.

A story of the material and the immaterial, of the customs of the peoples who inhabited and inhabit, the relationship and contact they have had with other cultures, their evolution and transformation to this day.

Album of personal cartographies of the Strait... (2018) by Miquel PlanasOriginal Source: Plataforma Vértices

Miquel Planas

Album of personal cartographies of the Strait of Magellan
“Forty mutated images and one interpreted pantone”

The album is the story of an approach to an unknown territory for the traveler, an evocation of the journey of the first Europeans who crossed the strait.

Although it is an updated story, because those who approach now have aerial photographs and maps of enormous precision, finally connecting with those first European trips by entering this geographic space, live it and experience it.

Logo of the cycle "Let's Turn Around the World" (2019) by Laura LimónOriginal Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

Do you want to know the other stops of the cycle?

The Let's turn around the world cycle is made up of the following exhibitions:

1. Rio somos nós!
2. Strait of Magellan: The Water Border
3. Plastic in sight!

BIBA CHAMORU: Culture and identity in Mariana Islands
Credits: Story

An exhibition organized by Plataforma Vértices and Museo Nacional de Antropología (Ministerio de Cultura y Deporte, Gobierno de España), with the support of DIRAC - Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile, Ministerio de las Culturas, las Artes y el Patrimonio (Gobierno de Chile) and Centro Cultural de España en Chile (Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo).

Project direction: María Paz Montecinos (Plataforma Vértices), Patricia Alonso Pajuelo (MNA)
Coordination: María Jesús Jiménez Díaz (MNA)
Graphic design: Plataforma Vértices
Graphic production: Boomerang Graphics
Restoration: Cristina Guerrero López (MNA)

This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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