With a garland of awards and “firsts” to her name, the famed Chilean sculptor Lily Garafulic passed away late last week, on March 15, 2012, at her apartment in Santiago’s Parque Forestal neighborhood. She was 97 years old.
The daughter of Croatian immigrants, Garafulic was born May 14, 1914 in the northern Chilean mining town of Antofagasta, before moving to Santiago with her family a few years later.
She studied at the School of Fine Arts of the Universidad de Chile, against her parents’ will. After finishing her university studies and visiting Europe, Garafulic hosted an individual exposition of her sculptures in 1944, becoming the first female artist in Chile to do so.
That same year, the young sculptor won the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to study in New York City. Upon her return, she installed one of her most enduring and popular monuments: “Los 16 Profetas” (“The 16 Prophets”), in the Basílica de Lourdes in western Santiago’s Quinta Normal neighborhood.
For the next few decades, Garafulic expanded her technique to include mosaic work from Italy and incorporated influences from her travels to Easter Island. She taught at the Universidad de Chile and the Fine Arts School in Lima, Peru.
From 1973 to 1977, Garafulic acted as the director of Chile’s national fine arts museum, the Museo Bellas Artes located in Parque Forestal.
In 1995, she won the National Visual Arts Award (Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticos), cementing her place in Chile’s art history. Garafulic is considered a member of the art movement known as the “Generación del ‘40,” along with other contemporaries who followed in the footsteps of the “Grupo Montparnasse” school of thought that dominated contemporary art at the turn of the century.
According to fellow sculptors, Garafulic was one of the first Chilean artists to return to abstract style, most notably in her landmark work “Los 16 Profetas,” as well as her 1969 piece, “Luna.” As Garafulic herself said, “I look for the structure more than the meaning.”
To visit “Los 16 Profetas,” take the metro to the Gruta de Lourdes station on Line 5. The church is located on Lourdes 645 in the Quinta Normal neighborhood.