Portrait of Two Chilean Arpilleristas
Translated by Cola Franzene
The arpillera is a wall hanging, a small simple scene constructed from scraps of cloth appliquéd onto a backing cloth, often of burlap. The word for burlap in Spanish is arpillera, hence the name given to the wall hanging. The women who make them are called arpilleristas.
The arpilleras made in Santiago as a way for poor women to earn a little money have evolved into a surprising political phenomenon. Workshops to make them were set up in 1974 -- some months after the coup that overthrew the Socialist government of Salvador Allende -- by the Vicary of Solidarity. The vicary, an organization of the Catholic Church particularly concerned with human rights and with helping those in most need, operates under the special protection of the Cardinal of Santiago.
Women began to make arpilleras that showed their own lives under Pinochet's dictatorship: the houses in the shantytowns, the church, the little school, the common water faucet often X'd out to show lack of water. Hunger: empty pots, empty bowls. Unemployment: closed and shuttered factories, lines in front of the unemployment office. The disappeared: empty chairs, empty rooms, a picture of the disappeared one with question marks embroidered all around. Political terror: arrests, beatings, burials.