Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-10-2017


Since the decades following Violeta Parra’s death in 1967, the life and legacy of the folklorist, singer, poet, and visual artist has been mythologized in Chilean popular consciousness. Throughout her career, which spanned the 1940s to the 1960s, Parra launched a widespread folkloric project for the purpose of the recovery, compilation, transcription, performance, and study of the music, poetry, rituals, proverbs, folktales, and material objects of the diverse regions of Chile. She recorded and performed original music utilizing traditional rural instruments with socially critical lyrics that denounced the injustices suffered by the oppressed sectors of Chilean society, a demographic with which she identified. Parra’s approach to music solidified her role as the “godmother” of Nueva Canción, the pervasive protest song movement that combined folk inspired melodies with socially committed lyrics from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, a period marked by increased grassroots organization and leftist mobilization leading up to and through the brief presidency of Salvador Allende (1970-3).

Despite the proliferation of scholarship on her poetry, song, and folkloric endeavors, however, studies focused exclusively on her visual art have been limited. Parra’s embroideries on burlap or arpilleras, paintings, and sculptures are virtually absent from the pages of Chilean and Latin American art history. Consequently, the development of this thesis has been guided by the question: What were the active systems and agents of ‘forgetting’ or erasure in place at the time of Parra’s career, and how do they still permeate the study of her visual art? One answer explored here is predicated on the fact that throughout the period that Parra produced art—as well as posthumously—it has been classified as folk, naïve, and instinctive.

This project, however, is not simply an act of recovery or an attempt to reclaim Parra’s artistic career within Chilean and global art history. Moreover, it is not focused on refuting the classification of Parra’s visual art as “folk” or “naïve” and arguing alternatively for its place within avant-garde or “modern” currents in the twentieth-century. Instead, this thesis is geared toward addressing the structurally negative relationships and notions of exclusion that permeate the specific contexts of Parra’s artistic reception. I do this by identifying three strategies—folk, the naïve, and indigeneity—Parra employed and the various contexts that informed them. Ultimately, they reveal decolonial approaches with which Parra worked against the legacy of cultural imperialism. By exploring these strategies and seeing them as vital products of the social, political, and artistic contexts in which Parra lived and worked, the more difficult it becomes to overlook her contribution to the cultural climate of mid-twentieth century Chile and beyond.

Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Kirsten Pai Buick

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth Hutchison

Third Committee Member

Kency Cornejo

Fourth Committee Member

Holly Bartnet-Sánchez


Violeta Parra, Chile, Latin American art, folk, decolonial, indigeneity