Violeta Parra.

Between dreams and reality

Folk musician Violeta Parra also left a rich visual legacy

By Roger Hamilton

When a musician passes away, something of that person’s unique gifts remains in the form of written notation and recordings. But in the case of Violeta Parra, beloved Chilean composer and performer of folk music, we also have engaging works of visual art that add depth to our appreciation of this musician’s creative legacy.

Born in southern Chile, where her father was a schoolteacher and her mother a seamstress, Parra achieved recognition for her music far beyond her country. A member of an unusually talented family, she performed extensively with her son and daughter, touring throughout Europe. Her brother, Nicanor Parra, is a noted poet.

It wasn’t until the end of the 1950s, when she was in her 40s and in the final years of her life, that Parra turned to the visual arts. During a period of convalescence after an illness, she began to weave tapestries known in Chile as arpilleras, a domestic, decorative form of folk art also found in other Latin American countries. She displayed her pieces during singing performances.

She also began to paint. "For me," she said, "painting is the sad and dark side of life. . . Weaving is the happy side of life." She did not receive formal training in either medium.

In both weaving and painting, her figures of people, animals, and plants assumed fanciful, often surrealistic and distorted forms. Between dream and reality, the images were clearly drawn from the same folk tradition that inspired her music.

A selection of Parra’s works was on display at the IDB’s Cultural Center Art Gallery in March, as part of a tribute to Chile, host of this year’s IDB annual meeting. The series also included a concert by Isabel Parra, daughter of Violeta Parra, in March and a lecture by Chilean novelist Jorge Edwards set for May.

Date posted: May 2001

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