Just outside the Chilean town of Antofagasta, the barren monotony of the Atacama Desert is shattered suddenly by the unexpected appearance of a gigantic hand coming out from the depth of sand as if reaching out for help. Standing in the middle of the desolate Atacama Desert, with an approximate height of around 36 feet (over 11 m), the unusual structure of the Hand of the Desert seems to be a striking and abrupt anomaly in the vast, otherwise uninterrupted flat swathes of sand.
The site of the structure was deliberately chosen as the city of Antofagasta instructed the sculptor, Mario Irarrázabal, to create something notable to break the monotony of sight, and the boring flatness of the red and burnt-orange plains stretch, by filling some of the empty space of the Atacama Desert. Accordingly, the enormous hand was installed about 75km south-east of the town of Antofagasta, at an intersection where a few roads head north towards Antofagasta.
Financed by a local booster organization, called Corporación Pro Antofagasta, the Hand of the Desert, locally known as Mano del Desierto, was created by the Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal in the early 1980s and inaugurated on 20 March 1992. Apart from the United States, the Santiago born artist also studied in Germany for years before returning in 1969 as a dedicated sculptor. The motion of hands rising from the ground is his obsession, and the Hand of the Desert is a sequel of his other works on the same subject, portraying human vulnerability and helplessness, which strikes anybody while viewing the unnerving, half-submerged palm.
The artist has installed other giant hands around the world, which included his famous creation, Monument to the Drowned, another over-sized sculpture completed by the artist in 1982, exploring the same idea. That structure also consisted of five fingers partially submerged by sand, located on Parada 4 at Brava Beach in Punta del Este, a popular resort town in Uruguay. In addition to that, Mario Irarrázabal also created similar sculptures in Madrid in 1987 and Venice in 1995.
Located in the wilderness of a hot and barren landscape and far away from the nearest locality, the Hand of the Desert has no barriers or fences, and anybody is free to touch or lean on it. But nobody can climb it because of the smooth and slippery surface of the gigantic fingers. But the huge hand ruling the empty kingdom is a victim of obscure art, and is often found covered with, graffiti, profanity, spray painting, and dirt. However, it is cleaned every six months by the community organization responsible for its financing.