Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC): The archive of the multifaceted artist Desiderio Arenas arrives at the university

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The family of the Chilean composer and writer delivered 100 pieces and personal documents to the Center for Chilean Literature Studies (CELICH), including scores, scripts, posters, theater programs, sound recordings, documents, letters and photographs. “El Chere” Arenas, a versatile artist, was known for being the author of songs performed by Quilapayún, Inti-Illimani, Patricio Manns and Los Ángeles Negros, and for his link to the Aleph Theater during his exile in Paris.

Musician, singer, writer, playwright and film and television screenwriter. Desiderio Arenas “El Chere” (1950-2016), was an author in the broadest sense. His work was related to music, but also to the writing of novels, biographies, plays and screenplays for movies. Part of his legacy is in the 100 pieces that his daughter Francisca Arenas donated to the Center for Chilean Literature Studies (CELICH) , of the Faculty of Letters, a unit that safeguards, investigates and disseminates the archives of this academic unit.

“My father was a very particular character. A person ahead of his time. Without having had formal studies – he only had one music teacher: Luis Advis – during his life he ventured into a lot of disciplines for which he had no preparation, “said Francisca Arenas last Tuesday, August 30, in the Patrimonial Room of the Library of Humanities UC, during the donation ceremony. And she continued:

“The archive will be something beneficial for people from different disciplines who have the desire or ideas to venture into something in which they have no preparation, but have a lot of talent. It’s nice to look at the example of someone who did it, who dared to take risks.”

With the delivery of the legacy of Desiderio Arenas, “we continue to delve into the expansion of the CELICH archives,” said the dean of the Faculty of Arts, Patricio Lizama. “Thus, this collection shows us that Arenas was a multiple artist, whose creativity was expressed in the most varied ways in different formats such as comics, scripts, theater, narrative, song. We believe that for our students, who are increasingly interested in intermedial and interdisciplinary forms, this work opens up research possibilities, both on the life and work of this artist and on the field of Chilean cultural field at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, of those who stayed in the country and also those who went into exile.”

“This file shows us that Arenas was a multiple artist, whose creativity was expressed in the most varied ways in different formats” – Patricio Lizama, Dean of the Faculty of Arts

As expressed by the dean, the donation is mainly made up of material related to the artist’s work and his personal life: scores, scripts, posters and programs of plays, cassettes with his compositions, CDs and some personal documents such as letters and photographs.

a versatile artist

Francisca Arenas and the rector Ignacio Sánchez, during the official donation ceremony, in the Humanities Library. Credits: Cesar Cortes.
Desiderio Arenas, “El Chere”, began in the sixties, a time when he assimilated influences as diverse as rock, jazz and popular songs. In 1966 he formed his first group called Ñancahuazú. It is in this period that he wrote the song ” Nunca te Olvidaré” for Los Ángeles Negros , a composition that was included in Porque te Quiero (1968), the first album of the well-known popular music group.

After the military coup of 1973, he was a prisoner in Valparaíso, in the Silva Palma barracks of the Chilean Navy. He went into exile in France between 1975 and 1987. At that time he collaborated with Quilapayún, Inti-Illimani, Patricio Manns, active artists in exile. In that period the author composed songs that were recorded by Quilapayún: “When Valparaíso”, “Portrait of Sandino with a hat”, “Re-volver” and “Oficio de tinieblas por Galileo Galilei”, “París 1938” and “Free Nelson Mandela “. In parallel with Patricio Manns, he composed “The roots of crying” and “Escrito en el trigo” for the LP Song without limits (1977) and “Disappearance of Josefina” for the album Death is not with me (1986), by Manns with Inti -Illimani.

While in France, he also joined the Aleph Theater in Paris, an outstanding Chilean company directed by the exiled actor and playwright Óscar Castro, and considered by critics to be one of the most avant-garde theater ensembles of its time. An important part of the donation contains materials from that time, such as posters and promotional brochures, work programs, librettos, scores, as well as press releases or critical reviews in Spanish and French.

“Desiderio Arenas was an artist who lived through difficult times, prison, exile, return to Chile and who managed to express himself through music, writing, comics and other forms, his experiences were those of an important part of his life. generation”, said Macarena Areco, academic from the Faculty of Arts and director of CELICH.


Francisca Arenas, in the exhibition with part of the donated material. “The archive will be something beneficial for people from different disciplines who have the desire or ideas to venture into something in which they have no preparation, but have a lot of talent,” said Arenas.
Back in Chile in 1987, “El Chere” recorded the rock album Desiderio Arenas y la Banda del Chacal (1988). As a playwright he wrote the works Bar Zeppelin blues (1984), Three hearts and a dagger , Eclip-set (1995), Julián, el piterpán nacional (2000), Three widows and a funeral (2000). In addition, he published the novels La playa de los alacranes (1993) and What Bob Dylan Took (2000).

“If we want UC to be a true heritage for the country, we have to start by taking care of Chile’s heritage. And the heritage of Chile is in many places, in the audiovisual, in the literary, in the musical. The case of Desiderio Arenas is special, since he combines these assets. He was a creative person, quite ahead of his time”, concluded the rector Ignacio Sánchez.

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