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Violeta Parra and Santiago:

a singer and her beloved city

Marisol García

Latinstock, Julio Bustamante–Archivo CENFOTO-UDP, Beatriz Chávez

The artist sang all her pain and nostalgia to Santiago, which welcomed part of her interesting work

 

Among the creators who dedicated their lives to Chilean popular art, Violeta Parra is the most universal. The songwriter, visual artist, and researcher is a living presence in Santiago thanks to the museum that carries her name: on Avenida Vicuña Mackenna, the 14,315-ft2 [1,330 m2] venue (with free admission) is located in a central region. Since 2015, Museo Violeta Parra has been home to part of the visual artist’s work (oil paintings, embroideries, and papier-mâché pieces), in addition to personal objects, like a guitar, harp, and sewing machine. There are also photos and recordings of her songs, and, with any luck, you may be able to check out a recital at the complex theater.

 

The museum is an homage that finally recognizes Violeta Parra as a great cultural figure in the capital’s epicenter, a contrast with the memories of her arrival in the city. The teenager coming from Chillán, in the south of the country, faced the 1930s Santiago with no friends or institutional support. She relied only on her determination and the help of her brother, Nicanor. «Salí de mi casa un día / pa’ nunca retroceder», recalls the artist in her autobiographical Décimas, where she describes the moment she got off the train and crossed the gate of Estación Central: with no one there waiting for her, she felt like a big dog was about to bite her. Violeta’s years in Santiago show a moving determination, devoted to popular art. In the capital she performed her first formal shows, at now-defunct bars in the region of Matucana (including El Tordo Azul and La Popular), singing boleros and folk music, like rancheras and corridos. It was also in the city that she was applauded by her peers, when she received the Caupolicán Award for Best Folk Artist in 1954, at Teatro Municipal.

 

Museo Violeta Parra: Vicuña Mackenna, 37

Teatro Municipal de Santiago: Agustinas, 794

 

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On a celebration of Chile’s Fiestas Patrias at Parque Quinta Normal, she met researcher Margot Loyola, her professional reference, work colleague, friend, and, at times, gentle rival. The park witnessed some of Violeta Parra’s important moments, and a tour of the gardens is essential to follow her path in the capital.

 

While living in Europe, she sang: «Quiero bailar cueca, / quiero tomar chicha, / quiero ir al Mercado / y comprarme un pequén. / Ir a Matucana / y pasear por la Quinta, / y al Santa Lucía / contigo, mi bien». The nostalgia for specific places in Santiago, which supports the pain-filled lyrics of “Violeta Ausente” (1955), reappears later in “Santiago, Penando Estás” (1962). In the city, she established herself as an artist, even though everyone else doubted her preparation and methods.

 

Though always recalling the country, Santiago represents her hard work, artistic acknowledgement, and goodbye. She’s present to this day in echoes of memories of a city that inspired and was defined by her songs.

 

Parque Quinta Normal: Matucana, 520