St. Kate’s has always aimed to expose women artists, with the Catherine G. Murphy gallery bringing recognition to many women artists over the years. It is interesting to see how women artists are appreciated in other parts of the world, especially when they are given such a pedestal at St. Kate’s. One of the most influential artists that has been brought to a bigger light in Chile is folksinger, writer, and painter Violeta Parra. In the past few weeks, Chile has been full of celebration for Parra. The artist would have turned 100 this October 4th, so throughout the month of October celebrations of her life and art have been occurring in all parts of Chile. In Valparaíso, a huge public concert was hosted in the Plaza Sotomayor called “One Thousand Singers for Violeta Parra”. The concert included local female artists like Ana Tijoux, Pascuala Ilabaca, and Tita Parra. The singing lasted until the stroke of midnight of October 4th, in order to celebrate the moment of Violeta Parra’s birthday.
Parra is known principally for her music, her most recognized song being Gracias a La Vida, which has since been covered by many different musicians. Parra wrote primarily folk music, writing songs for the guitar almost her whole life. She was inclined to poetry for her whole life, and wrote in verses constantly. She belonged to a family who lived in the country in Chile, with many members of her family going on to become accomplished artists themselves.
Through her music, Parra was able to transform the genre of folk songs and bring attention to the culture of the countryside in Chile. She was able to fuse her political views with her art magnificently. Parra was an artist in every sense of the word, and was a master in painting, embroidery, poetry, ceramics, and sculpting. The height of her career as an artist happened in the 1950s, when she was invited to places around the world to perform and show her art. Many of her paintings and embroideries were chosen to be exhibited in the Louvre in 1964. However, for much of her life Parra remained unknown as an artist, in the surrounding world and in Chile as well.
Cecilia Araneda, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso professor, took part in the celebrations of Parra’s 100th birthday, singing in the choir in Plaza Sotomayor to ring in Parra’s birthday. Araneda grew up listening to Violeta Parra in her home, and since then has remained passionate about her as an artist.
“I think the interesting part about Violeta Parra more than anything is to remember that she was a woman who came from a very humble world, with little access to education, and more than that, she was an incredibly intelligent woman and so innovative in her time. She was really ahead of her time, but also very unknown in the period that she lived, because the recognition of Violeta Parra is relatively new. In her time, no one paid any attention to her,” said Araneda.
There was a resurgence in popularity of the work of Violeta Parra in the time of socialist president Salvador Allende, and Parra was a continued supporter of his runs for presidency in the 1960s. Parra represented many of the values emplified by Salvador Allende, and alond with singer Victor Jara became one of the many artists who became part of his image. Many of her songs criticized the big powers, namely the Catholic church, the government, and the military, who she held accountable for many of the problems in Chile at the time. Her songs also brought rural and folkloric culture to a bigger audience, uniting many marginalized people in Chile. Her suicide in 1967 was a shock to many in Chile, ending the life of an active and imaginative artist too early.
Now, the exposure of Violeta Parra is on another level due to the celebration of her 100 years. Many people lined up to visit the Violeta Parra museum in Santiago this month, and murals inspired by her are being painted throughout the city of Valparaíso. The celebrations of Violeta Parra have been many this year for her 100th birthday, and Araneda feels that she is finally getting some of the recognition that she deserves.
“There are a lot of people who find her poor, as a lesser artist, and I think in good measure that was what caused her to commit suicide, right? To not feel understood, to not be supported by people, that was one of the reasons that made her finally decide to commit suicide. She lacked recognition in her time, and she still lacks recognition,” added Araneda.
The story of Parra can be compared to the story of many other female artists who may not receive the appropriate recognition or support for the work that they’re doing, on account of being women, on account of being poor, on account of not being white. The recognition for this Chilean artist Violeta Parra is for many a way to give her appreciation she didn’t receive when alive, and give opportunity to uplift other women artists that are currently making good work. Parra serves as an important reminder for celebrating women artists everywhere, not just in Chile. Although Parra may be receiving more support posthumously, female artists like her should receive the support and recognition they deserve in their own lifetime. As a university that harbours many women artists, we can learn to appreciate and uplift the talent we have at every opportunity we get.