Protruding from the sand of Chile’s Atacama Desert, this giant hand may look like the last vestige of a lost civilisation, but in reality it’s a large-scale sculpture by artist Mario Irarrázabal. Known as Mano del Desierto, or Hand of the Desert, the enigmatic sculpture is a sorrowful sentinel along the Pan-American Highway, intended to remind travellers of the tragic reality of the human condition.
Mano del Desierto stands 1,100 metres above sea level, 75 km south of the city of Antofagasta. Funded by local organisation Corporación Pro Antofagasta, the sculpture was unveiled on March 28, 1992. The Hand of the Desert is now a well known tourist attraction along Route 5, but has also drawn vandals and receives a periodic cleaning as a result of graffiti.
Like British sculptor Antony Gormley, Irarrázabal has employed the human form in many of his works. The hand, on this isolated desert plateau, expresses emotions of injustice, loneliness, sorrow and torture. At an impressive 36 feet high, set into a bed of iron and cement, Mano del Desierto’s exaggerated size underscores the theme of human vulnerability and helplessness.
Reporting for Environmental Graffiti, Karl Fabricus wrote: “The hand rising from the Atacama Desert retains its own mystique, perhaps because of the barren landscape on which it stands.”
Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal studied philosophy and art at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and theology at the Università Gregoriana Pontificia in Rome. He later trained under German sculptor Otto Waldemar, and exhibited his first work in Chile in 1970.