Hospital Barros Lucas Maternity Ward

Santiago, Chile


The Disappointed Tourist: Hospital Barros Lucos Maternity Ward, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

This painting is based on an uncredited photograph.

On 24 September 1911, Chile’s President Ramón Barros Luco laid the first stone for Santiago’s first public hospital, which would go on to become one of the country’s largest health-care facilities. Fourteen years later, his widow, Mercedes Valdés, helped create the maternity ward which would eventually carry her husband’s name. For most of the previous century, the maternity ward served the working women of Chile’s capital city. It helped make birth control available to a population that would otherwise not have had access to it, and provided abortions upon request. After the military coup of September 11, 1973, that service was interrupted. During the same period newborns began to disappear from the ward; in complicity with the Chilean government and members of the Catholic Church many were falsely declared to have died. In 2014 these crimes were made public and even acknowledged by some of the ward’s personnel. The Maternity Ward of the Hospital Barros Lucos shut its doors in 2010 without having cleared up a number of its many unresolved crimes and mysteries. Christian V.F.