The symbolic linking of the two continents, important in the life of Lily Garafulić was very emotional, with the Klapa Kantaduri band singing Vratit ću se svome Braču (I’ll Come Back to My Brač), because that’s exactly what it was like that evening. The memories of a great artist that never forgot her roots were revived.

The Split branch office of the Croatian Heritage Foundation, the Municipality of Nerežišća and the Island of Brač Culture Centre organised a memorial dedicated to Chilean sculptor of Croatian extraction Lily Garafulić to mark the 100th anniversary of her birth. The event was staged at the Nerežišća Gallery on May the 14th.
The gathered were welcomed by Jasna Damjanović, director of the Island of Brač Culture Centre, and by the mayor of Nerežišća Lovro Kuščević. Also on hand to speak of the life and work of Lily Garafulić was Branka Bezić Filipović, head of the Split branch office of the Croatian Heritage Foundation, followed by the screening of a documentary film about the artist.
The highlight of the evening was a Skype call to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago de Chile to speak to Lily’s niece Gloria Garafulic Grabois and her family and with Renee Ivin, minister counsellor at the Croatian embassy in Santiago, who coordinated the call.
On hand for the call on Brač were, along with those already cited, those present bearing the surname Garafulić and Brač-based artists; sculptors Lovro and Pero Jakšić, painter Dina Jakšić, and husband and wife sculptors Janez and Sandra Nejašmić Pirnat. The symbolic linking of the two continents, important in the life of Lily Garafulić was very emotional, with the Klapa Kantaduri band singing Vratit ću se svome Braču (I’ll Come Back to My Brač), because that’s exactly what it was like that evening. The memories of a great artist that never forgot her roots were revived.
With this programme Nerežišća has joined cities around the world that are this May celebrating Lily Garafulić. Exhibitions of her work have been opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago de Chile and the Universidad de Talca. The Chilean foreign ministry has organised an exhibition in Washington and Gloria Garafulić one in New York. Pedro Marinov, the Croatian honorary consul in Antofagasta has submitted a request to the city’s mayor to have a street named after Lily Garafulić.
Lily’s parents Petar Garafulić and Margarita Janković, both from Nerežišća, arrived in Chile at the dawn of the 20th century. They settled in Antofagasta and had four children, of which Lily was the youngest.
Lily began her education in her native town at the Colegio Yugoslavo. She continued her secondary education at the gymnasium in Santiago before moving on to study sculpting at the Universidad de Chile under professor Lorenzo Dominguez. Her family was not exactly delighted with her decision; all the more so as few students at the time chose to study sculpting. Even at the academy most chose painting or graphic arts. Her Brač genes, however, tipped the scales and she went on to become a sculptor, an artist, although she herself observed that the life of the artist is one of sacrifice and that it is not always a happy one, bereft of many of things most people take for granted. She loved art, and along with art – to travel.
Ahead of the World War II she spent two years in Paris to study, where she worked with Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who, as a creator of abstract sculpting paved the way towards surrealism and minimalism.
Several years later she continued her education in New York on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Following the war she studied mosaic techniques in Italy’s Ravenna.
She came to Croatia for the first time in 1957 while travelling to Greece and Egypt after an art congress in Venice, visiting Split and Dubrovnik on her way.
During the 1960s she toured South America studying native Indian art, Machu Picchu and the sculptures on Easter Island. She then created an Aku spirits series in wood and stone. She nurtured the idea for a year until finding an old piece of wood at a construction site, which she shaped into a sculpture. Over the next few years she breathed new life into discarded wood, cleaned of termites.
Lily Garafulić exhibited her work at some two hundred exhibitions, and it is estimated that she produced some 300 sculptures in her 80 years of work. Among the best known are the large works installed in the cupola of the Gothic-Byzantine basilica of Nuestra senora de Lourdes in Santiago de Chile.
Her brother, Andres Garafulić, an architect working on the basilica, needed a sculptor and entrusted the commission to his sister. She accepted it, saying it was a great risk that became a great success. Even Life magazine dedicated an article and Lily was referred to as the pride of Chile, noting that she had been a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
In 1995 Lily Garafulić received the Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas award. She served as the director of the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts and taught at the Universidad de Chile, becoming a professor emerita upon her retirement. She was a great intellectual, strict towards her students, just as she was towards herself. Her workshop produced sculpting greats such as Sergio Badilla Castillo and Raul Valdivieso.
Lily Garafulić passed away in Santiago in her 98th year. The news, published in The Santiago Times, noted her Croatian descent and her great influence on Chilean culture and sculpting.
Her wish to exhibit her work in Croatia never came to fruition. Her Portrait of a Woman in stone from 1949 was exhibited at the Branislav Dešković Gallery in Bol on the island of Brač. The 286-kilogram sculpture was sent by the artist as a gift in 1989.
Lily Garafulić will be remembered from her work, borne out of an exceptional talent and that set the path of her life. In her own words: “I gave sculpting everything. My life, that’s love.”

Text by: Branka Bezić-Filipović