Arpillera Quilts from the Chilean Political Resistance

Art as a protest against oppression

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

A multifaceted view of history

The exhibition is part of the 2012 project Marks of Memory (Marcas da Memória) run by the Ministry of Justice. This initiative seeks to take a new look at history through a non-state lens, allowing different voices to be heard when interpreting the events that shaped an era.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Chile's arpillera quilts

This form of quilting(or arpillera in Spanish) was started by a group of embroiderers from Isla Negra, a coastal village in central Chile, although the technique is based on an old popular tradition. The well-known folklorist Violeta Parra helped to promote this folk art to the wider world.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

A patchwork quilt

The basic difference between those original quilts and the arpilleras on display here is that these are made from leftover fabric scraps, with the embroidery merely an accessory to the quilt work.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Recycling and creativity

Just like the original arpilleras that inspired them, these were backed with burlap, a rustic fabric usually made from hemp or flax and used as flour or potato sacks. All the sewing is done by hand, using a needle and thread.

Painel em arpillera (2012)Biblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Rustic art

Just like the original arpilleras that inspired them, these were backed with burlap, a rustic fabric usually made from hemp or flax and used as flour or potato sacks. All the sewing is done by hand, using a needle and thread.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Expression by ordinary folk

The size of these pieces depended on the size of the original sack. Once its contents had been used up, the sack was washed and cut into six parts, enabling six women to sew their own personal stories. The Spanish word for this backing fabric is arpillera (burlap), hence the name given to this folk art.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

An escape from hard times

Violeta Parra exhibited a series of arpilleras at the Marsan Pavilion at the Louvre's Museum of Decorative Arts in 1964. She had started embroidery when a bout of hepatitis kept her from going about her daily activities.

Obra da exposição "Arpilleras da Resistência Política Chilena" (2012)Biblioteca Nacional de Brasília

More than just a visual form

But these arpilleras, with their unusual compositions and unexpected colors, ended up becoming a language for Chilean women to tell their stories. Violeta herself once said in an interview: “arpilleras are like painted songs".

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

The art of survival

Many arpillera quilts draw on established communal values and the sociopolitical problems that the women's communities face. They became a way of informing the outside world, both nationally and internationally, about what was happening in their communities while still remaining a cooperative activity and a source of income.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

The voice of the oppressed

From late 1973 onwards, thanks to these arpilleras, many Chilean women were able to oppose and attack the dictatorship. The arpilleras showed what was really happening in their lives and revealed their strength and persistence as they fought for truth and for justice.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Living memory of a sad history

What's more, each of these quilts allowed the code of silence imposed by events in Chile to be broken. Today, they are living testimony of what happened and they contribute to the country's historical memory.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Nature at the protests

This arpillera copies the typical figures, techniques, and designs of that time. Using an assortment of fabric remnants, it shows a non-violent protest in a Santiago suburb. The Andean mountains, the sun, and the use of three-dimensional characters also featured regularly in the arpilleras of that time.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

What little remained

Scraps from a pair of gray pants and a checked shirt belonging to one of the disappeared were used to make this arpillera, making it a powerfully emotive piece.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Lonquén kilns

This arpillera brings to life for us, in a very personal way, the terrible struggle families faced to get truth and justice for the human remains found at the kilns in Lonquén. The colors and the women's determination when their grievances are met by police repression leave us with an even starker impression of their situation.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Banging pots

Men, women, and children could often be heard rhythmically banging empty pots with wooden spoons and chanting: "Lucía, Lucía, the pot is empty”. Lucía was the name of the now deceased dictator's wife and this refrain—born out of the precarious economic situation facing working neighborhoods—rang out every day from 1978 to 1990 as part of the organized protests against General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

The lack of access to essential services

"They slammed all the doors in our faces, leaving us with no education, no health care, no justice, and no work. We had no choice but to go out onto the streets with our shovels to earn a living" (A laborer's comment in 1983).

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Begging the neighbors

This arpillera depicts poor people's response after their drinking water supply was cut off in a move to marginalize them and prevent them going out onto the streets to protest. In an act of open defiance, the women from these neighborhoods would take their buckets to the middle class areas to ask for water.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Art for interacting

This arpillera is unusual in that it employs a rare technique, using doors to force the viewer to move in closer to discover what is happening in each scene. Most arpilleras made from 1974 onwards had flour sacking as their fabric and included a pocket containing the maker's own story. These details are still found today in some pieces made in certain workshops in Chile. The maker's message tells us a little about the difficult circumstances she faces in her social and communal environment.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Autora desconhecidaBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

Torture and protests

Violeta Morales, the creator of a very powerful arpillera about torture. The Chilean population took to the streets to protest against the abuses by the Pinochet dictatorship.

Exposição Arpilleras Da Resistência Política Chilena (2012) by Violeta MoralesBiblioteca Nacional de Brasília

The piece by Violeta Morales

This shocking arpillera shows people being tortured. Based on survivors' testimonies as told to Violeta Morales while she was searching for her disappeared brother, Newton, it depicts in graphic detail the experience of being tortured. It shows dehumanized people, with no individual features, going through a non-personal, collective experience that is specifically targeted at a certain group of people.

Arpillera (2012)Biblioteca Nacional de Brasília

The people's voice

This arpillera shows and records people's political engagement in Santiago de Chile's marginalized communities. After 17 years of a military dictatorship, the democratic election of a Christian Democrat president is seen as a step forward in the country's political history.

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