The Giant Hand Buried in the Atacama Desert

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Image: piscochile

It looks like the extremity of a giant man, buried by a monumental sandstorm. In the wasteland of Chile’s Atacama Desert, 75 km to the south of the city of Antofagasta, a strange and unexpected sight confronts the eye: four fingers, a thumb and part of a palm, emerging from the sand. Set against the azure sky, this surreal giant hand is of course not made of flesh but stone. Called “Mano de Desierto”, or “Hand of the Desert”, it is a piece of art that grabs those who see it like no other.


Image: Alain Derksen

The work of Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal, the massive sculpture rises 36 feet in the air atop a base made of iron and cement. The piece was constructed at an elevation of 3608 feet above sea level on the virtually rainless plateau of the Atacama Desert – the driest in the world. Yet despite its isolated and arid location, vehicles regularly pull up and people pile out to take in the desert artwork – a must stop for those travelling along the Panamerican Highway since its inauguration in 1992.

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Image: The Photographer Berlin

After studying philosophy and art at the University of Notre Dame, IN, and theology at the Università Gregoriana Pontificia in Rome, artist Mario Irarrázabal trained under the German sculptor Otto Waldemar. He first exhibited his work in Chile in 1970, using the human figure to express themes such as injustice, loneliness, sorrow and torture. The exaggerated proportions like those evident in the “Hand of the Desert” are seen to emphasise human vulnerability and helplessness.

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