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Art Against Dictatorship

Art Against Dictatorship: Making and Exporting Arpilleras Under Pinochet

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    Art Against Dictatorship
    Book Description:

    Art can be a powerful avenue of resistance to oppressive governments. During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, some of the country's least powerful citizens-impoverished women living in Santiago's shantytowns-spotlighted the government's failings and use of violence by creating and sellingarpilleras, appliquéd pictures in cloth that portrayed the unemployment, poverty, and repression that they endured, their work to make ends meet, and their varied forms of protest. Smuggled out of Chile by human rights organizations, thearpillerasraised international awareness of the Pinochet regime's abuses while providing income for thearpilleramakers and creating a network of solidarity between the people of Chile and sympathizers throughout the world.

    Using the Chileanarpillerasas a case study, this book explores how dissident art can be produced under dictatorship, when freedom of expression is absent and repression rife, and the consequences of its production for the resistance and for the artists. Taking a sociological approach based on interviews, participant observation, archival research, and analysis of a visual database, Jacqueline Adams examines the emergence of thearpillerasand then traces their journey from the workshops and homes in which they were made, to the human rights organizations that exported them, and on to sellers and buyers abroad, as well as in Chile. She then presents the perspectives of thearpilleramakers and human rights organization staff, who discuss how thearpillerasstrengthened the resistance and empowered the women who made them.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74383-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Solidarity Art
    (pp. 1-25)

    Repressive regimes can spark creativity, in that individuals who do not consider themselves artists seek ways to communicate that evade repression and censorship.¹ New art forms emerge, new artists arise, and preexisting artistic genres evolve, while more established art forms, venues, and artists may be repressed. When, for example, national security doctrines result in the incarceration of what come to be called “political prisoners,” these prisoners may begin making art in their cells, and their relatives may begin creating denunciatory art. In Chile under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973–1990), political prisoners carved tiny sculptures of fists, doves, and villages...

  6. 2 Beginnings: Unemployment and Joining Groups
    (pp. 26-53)

    To create art containing messages about the failings and aggressions of the Pinochet dictatorship was a dangerous enterprise. How, then, did thearpillerasandarpilleramaking emerge?

    When they began makingarpillerasin early 1975, the very firstarpilleristaswere living in poverty in shantytowns. Most were married, looking after their small children, and not working for an income.¹ Their poverty had very recently worsened because their husbands, the family breadwinners for the majority, had lost their jobs.² This unemployment was caused in part by the regime’s national security doctrine and use of violence to rid Chile of Marxists. Leftists...

  7. 3 The First Arpillera Groups
    (pp. 54-73)

    With one exception, the first unemployed women’sarpilleragroups started off as income-earning groups that specialized inarpilleramaking in 1975. They were based in the shantytowns of Puente Alto, Lo Hermida, Villa O’Higgins, and La Faena in the eastern zone, and one group was based in the shantytown of Huamachuco in northern Santiago. At about the same time, a mixed workshop (whose members included unemployed women and relatives of the disappeared) was starting in the southern zone, and a group of just relatives of the disappeared began meeting in the Comité’s eastern zone office; both these groups will be...

  8. 4 Arpillera Making in Other Groups and Its Spread
    (pp. 74-97)

    The relatives of the disappeared who madearpilleraswere the mothers, wives, partners, sisters, and daughters of people who had been taken away by the secret police and never seen alive by their families again; nor were their where-abouts known. In total there were 1,163 disappeared.¹ Most were working class² and leftists from the Socialist and Communist Parties and the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria; MIR). Their relatives met each other while searching for them in prisons, morgues, government offices, and the courts, and while seeking legal assistance at the Comité.³ A small number of these...

  9. 5 Producing the Arpilleras
    (pp. 98-141)

    The women did most of theirarpillerawork at home. During workshop meetings, which took place one to three times a week in their local church, they continued with work already begun, started designingarpillerasfor which they had just received orders, or added the final touches toarpillerasthey were about to hand in. They were creative about acquiring the raw materials for this work.

    To raise the money for the raw materials for their very firstarpilleras, the earliestarpilleragroups of the eastern zone organized folk music evenings (peñas) with the help of drama students who were...

  10. 6 Selling Arpilleras
    (pp. 142-184)

    A system for selling solidarity art abroad does not fall into place immediately. Initially, the art may be sold locally, at the initiative of the artists. The international selling may begin quite by chance, when a trusted person living abroad offers to try and sell; at first it will be on a small scale.

    The selling ofarpillerasbegan locally. Comité staff were important buyers. At first they bought as individuals, and not for the Comité. Anabella, the Comité teacher, for example, boughtarpillerasfrom groups in the eastern zone. Similarly, Hilaria, the Comité lawyer, bought thearpillerasthat made...

  11. 7 The Buyers Abroad
    (pp. 185-206)

    The individuals who bought thearpilleraswanted to help thearpilleristasand express solidarity with them, and they were sympathetic to the anti-dictatorship cause. Because they bought out of solidarity, I call these buyers asolidarity market. As Gertrudis, a Vicaría employee, said: “Thearpillerawas something that was very solidarity focused (solidario) across the world. In other words, people bought them for solidarity reasons, like a reflection of the denunciation and like a reflection of what was happening in the country, to give support to the women, to support what the women were doing.” Buyers abroad were mostly locals...

  12. 8 Selling, Giving, and Exhibiting Arpilleras in Chile
    (pp. 207-219)

    Only a few places in Chile soldarpillerasduring the dictatorship. The Vicaría headquarters had a room where it sold some, along with crafts made in prisons, and the eastern Vicaría office soldarpillerasoccasionally. The Fundación Missio, a Catholic organization, soldarpillerasmade byarpilleristasin northern Santiago. These venues benefited from some protection due to their affiliation with the Church. Others, however, did not. In early 1976, the owner of a gallery in the neighborhood of Bellavista began sellingarpilleras, as we saw earlier, and in February 1977 her gallery was bombed, while thearpilleraswere on the...

  13. 9 The Consequences of Arpillera Making
    (pp. 220-251)

    Thearpilleristassaw theirarpilleramaking as having contributed to the downfall of the dictatorship, and as having been important for their survival and social and intellectual development. From their perspective, it enabled them to inform people abroad about what was really happening in Chile, provided them with income and donations, gave them the opportunity to learn, helped them relax and forget their problems, and raised their self-esteem.

    Thearpilleras, the women thought, were a means by which people abroad could learn about life under the dictatorship at a time when the media did not talk about what was really...

  14. 10 Conclusion
    (pp. 252-268)

    The case of thearpillerasuggests that under a dictatorship, for a solidarity art system to emerge, it is necessary to have people eager enough to make the art that they are willing to risk the dangers involved, or eager and not fully aware of the danger, and willing to overcome other barriers such as gender expectations and difficulties with group formation. Severe economic hardship or harsh repression give rise to a pool of individuals willing to make art if in doing so they can obtain money or a therapeutic release from their anguish. In Chile, the desperate political or...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 269-280)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-290)
  17. Index
    (pp. 291-297)