‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions welcome).
By Roberta Bacic (September 2009
This is the third month INNATE looks into a
piece that relates arts to conflict and peace.
Back in 2007 I started collecting and
exhibiting quilts and arpilleras (small Latin American textiles made on burlap)
so as to depict what women were experiencing in their lives through the violent
conflicts that affect their lives. Since February 2008 they have been
permanently on exhibition in different places of Northern Ireland and beyond.
The core argument to bring them out to the
public domain is well stated in a quote I found in Weavings of War published in
2005 by Michigan State University. Ariel Zeitlin Cooke says:
“In telling their stories of survival,
artists make use of whatever styles, techniques and genres are most familiar,
most integral to their experience and identity. Each culture has its own
traditional forms of expression which artists employ to express their ideas,
feelings, and stories. When existing modes of expression seem inadequate or
inappropriate to the task of communication, artists adapt and change them.
Sometimes they invent new forms. The disastrous dislocation and disruption of
war particularly necessitate new form of expressions. War may transform not
only the storyteller but also an entire culture’s way of telling stories”.
It seems pertinent at this stage to share
with our INNATE readers and beyond, a piece I wrote for the UNDP Magazine
(United Nations Development Programme, Colombia) and which appeared in their
special number 42, December 2008/January 2009.
Arpilleras That Cry Out, Denounce, Sing
In Chile, these manual textile crafts were
used to represent acts of repression, violence and trauma; and to express their
effect on the political groups, indigenous and grassroots communities and
minorities targeted during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
"People restore the truth to wash
to clean the eyes of those who hid it,
and the ignorance of those who did not want
(Carlos Martin Beristain)
Arpilleras, literally “burlaps”, originated
in the ancient folk textile traditions of the Isla Negra region of Chile. Arpilleras are quilted patchworks, appliquéd and embroidered to depict scenes from
the lives of the women who made them. Scraps of cloth create and recreate
images that are stitched onto a base fabric then mounted on burlap, the rough
fabric used for bagging potatoes. This is where the name comes from.
Language becomes elusive, shy and helpless
when trying to describe what the arpilleras are; what they express and
transmit. It is not possible to refer to them only by looking at the images.
Even if deprived of feeling their texture, the context which gave them life and
the artists who made them are clearly part of a specific historic social space.
The limitations of words force us to seek a
different, more creative way of approaching arpilleras if we hope to engage
adequately with the emotions they express and evoke. The Chilean folklorist
Violeta Parra said, "Arpilleras are like painted songs". When she was
sick in bed in Santiago in the 1960s, she made many innovative arpilleras.
Using traditional methods, embroidering with wool and thread on the patches of
cloth, with a sense of total freedom she recreated scenes of everyday life, of
historical and popular landscapes. The Artisan Centre of the Dominicans in Santiago, mounted an exhibition of these works in March–April 2004: Violeta Parra, Oils and
On many occasions the craftswomen artists
use dolls or other objects to bring us closer to the emotional and material
life their pictures represent, giving realistic, three-dimensional life to
Beyond Chile, the use of traditional
textile crafts to depict acts of repression, violence and trauma is growing.
They are created particularly from the repression experienced by indigenous
groups, local grassroots communities and minorities, whether during civil wars,
other armed conflicts or periods of transition.
Handmade cloth artworks such as these
convey experiences that are difficult or impossible to communicate in words and
cross the barriers of language and culture to communicate with other people
starkly and directly. To do this, women’s textile works are woven, sewn,
embroidered or created from a combination of these different techniques. Women
in countries of Central and Southeast Asia, like Thailand, Laos, Burma and
Vietnam; in South Africa, in Afghanistan, and the United States, to name a few,
are creating works similar to the Chilean arpilleras.
Their Emergence In Latin America
In Latin America, Chile was the pioneer in the use of arpilleras to denounce political-social crimes. Among the
arpilleras of this country are those that originally came from the hands of
courageous women of the Association of Relatives of the Detained Disappeared.
Under the sponsorship of the Vicariate of Solidarity of the Catholic Church in Chile, they could act, resist, confront, denounce, rebel and save from oblivion their loved
ones who had been disappeared, executed, tortured, exiled, impoverished and
humiliated under the cruel and ruthless military dictatorship of General
Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990.
These women developed a unique identity in
the history of the country, expressing through textiles the denunciation of
what they were being forced to live. Theirs was a form of political resistance
which embraced non-violence despite the horrors they faced; a therapy to handle
their sorrows; participation in their society in a role different to the one
usually designated and a way to obtain some resources for survival.
Marjorie Agosín, in her book published this
year entitled Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love, the Arpillera Movement in Chile, explains in what context they emerged: "The arpilleras were born into a
desolate and muffled period in Chilean culture, when citizens spoke in hushed
voices, writing was censored, and political parties vanished. Yet the
arpilleras flourished in the midst of a silent nation, and from the inner
patios of churches and poor neighbourhoods, stories made of cloth and yarn
narrated what was forbidden."
Using their natural skills of sewing,
knitting, embroidery and weaving, these women share feelings and experiences
with other Chileans and with other cultures. This is how they remember; this is
how they show what happened to them, as individuals, as members of a community
and as citizens of their country. Arpilleras keep memory alive.
"Through scraps torn from remnants
of clothing and discarded objects unvalued by the new consumerism, these women
managed to express forbidden scenes: torture, clandestine prisons and hunger in
the township. For the arpilleristas, the political events of the country and
their daily lives became inseparable. Through their art, they represented their
world: empty homes and children looking for their parents. However, in spite of
the portrayal of a world of horrors, the arpillera is bright, cheerful, and
speaks of hope and the empowerment that rises from the solidarity of collective
labour,” says Agosín.
Beyond their skill as works of art, the
process of creating these vignettes of their painful experiences, of
disseminating them beyond their specific, everyday world, and above all their
contribution to revealing the truth; the making of these textiles helped the
arpilleristas and their followers to improve their self-esteem, strengthened
them and gave them the energy needed to make claims for reparation and justice.
Let us look at a few individual arpilleras,
the scenes, pictures, figures, memorabilia and texts that reveal what women
want to say
This is the general introduction of the
article. If you – as a reader – want to access the complete article with its
corresponding arpilleras pictures, I invite you to go to the web site where it
(the whole magazine)
For more information on quilts and
arpilleras and also on past, present and future exhibitions, visit the archive