Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
This paper highlights a recent inquiry into the contemporary visual culture of the Chilean arpillera from a cross-global perspective. This art form derived from political, social, and economic conditions of the times yet contemporary manifestations do not address these origins. Arpilleras, historically created in the home and sewn by hand, are constructions in which bits of discarded cloth and burlap were used to compose pictorial narratives. The art form arose in Chile during a period of intense political oppression. This manifestation of women’s fiber art has and continues to serve as both seditious and reconstructive forms of visual culture. While the government of Chile has undergone tremendous change since early arpilleras were created in response to atrocities committed by the Pinochet regime in the 1970s and 80s, the original intention and audience of the arpillera has changed as well. As an American traveling to Chile, I was excited to have an opportunity to see these works of art in person. Yet I discovered that the once powerful form of political resistance is no longer created to tell personal stories of oppression or acknowledge the lives of those disappeared and murdered. Rather, contemporary arpilleras (excluding those in museums) display playful images of rural Chilean life and idyllic landscapes. Arpilleras, once a subversive way to communicate to humanitarian organizations outside Chile, are now a bright, colorful commodity packed into suitcases and proudly shared as souvenirs. This robust part of Chilean tourism-sold as wall-hangings and cards, are manufactured by machine in workshops staffed with a predominantly male workforce. In this paper I seek to tease out the ways in which these changes potentially alter the value and impact of arpilleras within visual culture by asking how do these contemporary manifestations reflect the Chilean cultural identity yet ignore it as well?