Friday, September 30, 2011

The Chilean Arpilleristas: Changing National Politics through Tapestry Work

The Chilean Arpilleristas: Changing National Politics through Tapestry Work
presented at 
Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Textiles & Politics, Washington, D.C.
September 20, 2012
Published in full online in the proceedings at the University of Nebraska Digital Commons

During the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1989), the Chilean arpilleristas, women tapestry weavers, combined their collective memories of brutality with their traditional gender roles to at first privately share grievances over their “disappeared” loved ones and eventually to protest authoritarianism.  These poverty-stricken women of shantytowns met in clandestine workshops and formed a grassroots organization to create protest tapestries woven from their own garments to sell to foreign markets.  Subsequently, the arpillersitas became politically mobilized and began to partake in civil disobedient actions to protest the government’s attempts to conceal and ignore their memories. National and international attention to their cause aided in a return to democracy in Chile.  This essay aims to trace how the upheaval of the political, economic, and social spheres of Chilean life allowed for a collective memory framework to catalyze the arpilleristas’ political mobility which was not only reactive but creative.  To illustrate how the Chilean women progressed from being traditional mothers and wives to radical instigators of a political movement, I will analyze specific arpilleras.  In doing so, I will show how their collective memory was motivation to become politically active in an arena that allowed for women’s issues to be considered political.  In examining the textiles, it will also become apparent that the arpillera movement influenced other women’s protest movements in Latin America.  At stake is a better understanding of how gender, politics and societal forces interact when a nation is in strife and how artforms can be tools of substantial change.

This arpillera shows a typical day except for the man being led away by officials.  This is an early work produced in a clandestine workshop as any outward protest of these violent acts would have prompted the arpillerista's arrest.
Arpillera depicting the Arpilleristas chained to congress as their political protests became more overt.


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This essay was selected for Textiles and Politics, The Textile Society of America's 13th Biennial Symposium in September 2012.

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