Latin America

I) Medium of Oppression Used to Overcome Oppression

Augusto Pinochet

Augusto Pinochet

On September 11, 1973, President Salvador Allende of Chile was thrown out of office by a military coup d’etat headed by General Augusto Pinochet, the commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army. From 1974 to 1990, Pinochet imposed a military dictatorship on the Chilean government and proceeded to violate a myriad of human rights laws. During his reign, 3,143 individuals were accounted as either murdered or disappeared and 28,000 other individuals suffered from unwarranted torture and imprisonment at the barbarian hands of Mr. Pinochet. The accuracy of these numbers is unclear, for many more Chileans are still unaccounted for today.
The photograph displayed here serves as a comprehensive summary of both the personality of the man himself and the modes of torture he imposed on Chilean citizens. Seated in front of his shameless compadres, Pinochet shows no sign of humanity. Excessive confidence oozes out of his impenetrable dark shades and his closed posture indicates the rule of silence he imposed on his people. Little did Pinochet know that silence — his medium of oppression — would be used to eventually overthrow his position in the Chilean government. The arpilleristas, a band of women working silently together, created a series of anonymous arpilleras infused with a secret language that today “stand as bold and bright testimonials of truth, monuments made of cloth, and patchwork documentation of a history that refuses to recede” (Tapestries, 5).

II) Introduction to Arpilleras Movement

"Matanza en el Pueblo (Murder in the Village)." By Angelina T., Peruvian Arpillera, 1990.

"Matanza en el Pueblo (Murder in the Village)." By Angelina T., Peruvian Arpillera, 1990.

The study of craft outside the context of a museum is important to understanding how arpilleras served the women of Chile. If these arpilleras were hung on stale walls and in a dimly lit room, they would not have been able to evolve into a national movement. Take for instance the Gee’s Bends quilts that were removed out of their context and placed into the museum. Converting their understanding of craft as an art object, the greater implications that those quilts had were completely overlooked. The understanding of arpilleras outside the museum is perhaps the only way one can comprehend the greater functions it played during the dictatorship. Not meant to be hung on walls or even used as bedcovers, the fact that these arpilleras functioned only outside the museum contributed to their success in attaining freedom.
Not confined to the women of Chile, the making of arpilleras exceeded most regions of Latin America. The power of the arpilleras as political tools has been overlooked in the current history of craftivism. Arpilleras served as tools that spoke out against the Pinochet regime in a non-violent, yet very upfront manner. The arpilleras of Chile are important to the political, social, and economical history that Pinochet tried to silence during his ruling. The women creating the arpilleras used their traditional feminine skills as sewers and seamstresses in order to create fabrics that voiced their opinion silently and in a very discrete method. If these arpilleras were merely considered as art pieces the entire meaning behind them would be lost.
The arpillera featured here tells the story of a Peruvian highlands Indian whose village was attacked and destroyed as a result of political uproar (O’Bannon). This arpillera serves as a representation of the hardships Peruvian people endured. Situations such as these are often censored by government and never make their way into textbooks. Arpilleras functioned as documentation of the political unrest that was being hidden from outsiders. The arpilleristas encouraged viewers of their craft to “reexamine the limits of women’s power and the opportunities of women to make a global difference” (Forcey, 8).

Arpillera workshops: http://www.proyectovos.org/templates/System/details.asp?id=40008&PID=481514
How to make arpilleras: http://www.lucuma.com/content/artists/aboutarpilleras.asp
Buy arpilleras: http://www.thefolkartgallery.com/arpilleras.htm or
http://www.llacta.com/products/textiles/arpilleras/arpilleras.htm

III) Maker of Craft
An arpillera workshop. Date Unknown [ca. 1974]

An arpillera workshop. Date Unknown (ca. 1974)

Arpillera workshops were more than just a place for women to work and provide for their families. During the vicious dictatorship of Pinochet, the arpillera workshops became a place where women were encouraged to think critically about the current political and social situations in Chile. For the first time, women were taking on positions at the head of the household and using their skills to keep the family afloat. As Marjorie Agosin discusses in her book, Scraps of Life: Chilean Arpilleras, the women took advantage of their new position and “use[d] it to fight for justice for their children first of all, but also for wider social reforms” (30). These new positions allowed women to break beyond their normal constraints of being just mothers and wives, giving them the opportunity to speak in a new environment that supported intellectual thought regarding the growing number of Chileans that had recently disappeared.
The workshops were nothing like the factory settings we have seen in other developing countries. The workshops were comfortable, inviting, and allowed for conversation between the workingwomen. Within each workshop about twenty women would meet with a Vicaría representative who would guide the arpillera making and give talks about human rights and the current situation in Chile (“Movement,” 621). The arpilleras were quilt like pieces of fabric that were embroidered upon and depicted events that affected the lives of the arpilleristas. Each arpillera was assembled by hand and told the story of “women’s resistance, truth-telling, and confrontation” (Ramalho, 316) The construction of each arpillera exhibited the craft’s authentic handmade quality, setting it apart from anything ever manufactured in a factory. The love and pain that went into each stitch is revealed within the arpilleras. The physical needle movements characterize the craftivism, making it apparent that these arpilleras are more than just art pieces. The arpilleras are representative of the women who “stopped being ‘just’ housewives, [or] ‘just’ mothers, and became… members of a wider community, demanding rights and justice for all” (Scraps, 37).
Arpillera depicting a dove carried by front-line marchers in a protest. Date Unknown [1974-1999].

Arpillera depicting a dove carried by front-line marchers in a protest. Date Unknown (1974-1999)

This image is important to understanding how the making and utilization of arpilleras were not exclusive to just women. In this image we see men and women united and protesting with an arpillera banner. This photograph shows a group of men and women that walked the streets of Santiago protesting a recent murder of a French priest that took place because of a government raid (“Art in Social Movements,” 44). The people took to the streets in order to raise awareness and fight back. The large arpillera they hold features a dove symbolizing their unity and nationalistic pride. The protest group was made up of many different organizations that supported the work of the arpilleras movement. Protest groups, such as this one, were important for the recognition of the masses that were against Pinochet’s dictatorship. By labeling the mass among the arpilleras movement, the message became more widespread and encouraged others to act upon their dissatisfaction with the current political regime and the social crisis that was erupting.
IV) The Power of Craft Outside the Museum

"¡Adiós Pinochet! (Goodbye Pinochet!)." Anonymous. Chilean Arpillera. Courtesy of Heidi and Peter Gessler, Switzerland, Date Unknown.

"¡Adiós Pinochet! (Goodbye Pinochet!)." Anonymous. Chilean Arpillera. Courtesy of Heidi and Peter Gessler, Switzerland, Date Unknown.

Outsiders saw the making of arpilleras as a non-violent protest, but the arpilleristas saw themselves as violently protesting vicariously through these quilts. The arpilleras’ meanings were oftentimes violent and loud. The arpillera featured here depicts a community of women who have gone to the streets carrying banners that speak against the dictatorship of Pinochet. In the arpillera no men are seen on the streets because at this point the men of Chile were rapidly disappearing. In reality, the women could not go out on the streets and protest for fear of being imprisoned or exiled themselves. Instead, the women gathered together in secrecy and eventually contributed to the successful overthrow of the Pinochet dictatorship.
Contrary to the notion that non-violent protest is a means of feminine passivity, the making of these arpilleras were the result of feminine solidarity and strength. The arpilleristas went “outside the traditional political system to effect political change” (Scraps, 23). If these women had resorted to the use of weapons, their message would not have been heard. They would have simply died and their attempts at overthrowing the dictatorship of Pinochet would have been ultimately futile. Instead, the women acted within the parameters of the limited rights they had and used the arpilleras in the same manner as guns. That is, the arpilleras were symbolic weapons of aggressive and military protest. Even though the arpilleras were representative of assertive protest, the arpilleristas are remembered for creating art that was “one of the most beautiful, yet forceful and effective, expressions of resistance in the country” (Moya-Raggio, 278). Certainly not passive in their actions, the arpilleristas contributed to the silent yet affective revolution against the bloody ruling of Pinochet.

"Sala de Torturas (Chamber of Torture)." By Violeta Morales. Chilean Arpillera. Date Unknown.

"Sala de Torturas (Chamber of Torture)." By Violeta Morales. Chilean Arpillera. Date Unknown.

This arpillera represents the torture that Chilean’s experienced under Pinochet’s regime. The stylistic qualities and characteristics present within this arpillera help symbolize the dehumanization that was occurring in Chile. The people in the image are represented as mere shadows of figures in order to show that more than just a few individual people were affected under Pinochet. The dehumanization was widespread and affected the masses, therefore the faceless figures represent a large unidentified group of people. This arpillera is seen as powerful because it silently projected its concerns with the demoralizing acts present in Chile and, without using any words, it voices its message that Pinochet can no longer lock everyone up in order to keep them quiet. The women used their skills to create political protest that moved beyond the craft/art divide and served as craftivism outside the museum (Bacic, 10).

V) Craft Today
Arpilleras That Cry Out

The following video shows how arpilleras still promote public discourse on present governments and rulers. This film documents some of the discussions around a contemporary arpillera exhibition curated (February 2008 to present day) by Roberta Bacic. Within the video we hear a man discussing his opinion towards politics and social issues today. He says “I make no apologies for pointing the finger at Tony Blair and George Bush and a few others that we know so well, that have been responsible for the death of tens of thousands, and how do we get through to them and tell them no longer.” From this man’s ‘cry out’ we see that arpilleras continue to be used to protest against modern day Pinochets.

More Information on Roberta Bacic’s Exhibition- http://www.innatenonviolence.org/readings/2009_09.shtml