Giant Hands in the Desert: Inspiration for Geographic Creativity

As I said last week, it has been quite a summer. The biggest adventure of the season was my trip to Antofagasta, Chile to meet with the wonderful teachers of the Tarpuq project. I thoroughly enjoyed my meetings there—including the chance to speak to an audience listening to a translation through headphones, and working with PowerPoint slides that were translated so I could no longer read them! The work happening there is creative and exciting.

After our days of work, members of the Tarpuq staff generously offered to take me to see some of the local sites, the most dramatic of which is this giant hand sculpture emerging from the Atacama desert. The sculpture, titled Mano de Desierto is the work of the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal. Irarrázabal has also created giant hand sculptures in Uraguay, Spain, and Italy, but he identifies Mano de Desierto as his personal favorite. It is said to be a monument to the vastness of the desert landscape.

I can see why. The Atacama desert is the driest non-artic region on earth. Driving across it feels a bit like exploring another planet. After driving miles through a landscape barren of any life, the hand emerges as a striking contrast. It made me think about how interesting it could be to design monuments to other geographic features. For example, what kind of monument would best represent the Rocky Mountains? Hudson Bay? The Sahara? It could be interesting to incorporate this artistic challenge into geography lessons, and it could also be a great opportunity to differentiate assignments for those with particular strengths in artistic imagination and/or abstract thinking skills. Mano de Desierto spurs observers to think about the desert, but it doesn’t look like a desert. Similarly, it is easy to imagine students creating craggy or pointed sculptures to represent the Rocky Mountains. But what if some (or all) students were prompted to go one step further? How could you spark thinking about the mountains with a monument that doesn’t look at all like a mountain? Having students create such a piece, along with an explanation about the characteristics of the mountain—or other form—being represented could be an exciting way to exercise creativity while requiring complex thought about content. It has made me think, just imagining it! If your students create monuments, as sculptures or sketches, we’d love to see them.

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