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Art Against Dictatorship

Art Against Dictatorship
Making and Exporting Arpilleras Under Pinochet

This pioneering study of Chilean arpillera folk art explores the creation and transnational selling of art to express solidarity with people coping with repression and poverty and to help support them financially ("solidarity art"). It also shows how art can be a powerful force for opposing dictatorship and empowering oppressed people.

Series: Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Endowment, Number Twenty-Nine

September 2013
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311 pages | 6 x 9 | 24 b&w photos |

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 selling arpilleras, 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, the arpilleras raised international awareness of the Pinochet regime’s abuses while providing income for the arpillera makers and creating a network of solidarity between the people of Chile and sympathizers throughout the world.

Using the Chilean arpilleras as 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 the arpilleras and 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 the arpillera makers and human rights organization staff, who discuss how the arpilleras strengthened the resistance and empowered the women who made them.




1. Solidarity Art

2. Beginnings: Unemployment and Joining Groups

3. The First Arpillera Groups

4. Arpillera Making in Other Groups and Its Spread

5. Producing the Arpilleras

6. Selling Arpilleras

7. The Buyers Abroad

8. Selling, Giving, and Exhibiting Arpilleras in Chile

9. The Consequences of Arpillera Making

10. Conclusion




Jacqueline Adams has worked as an assistant professor of sociology in Hong Kong, senior researcher at the University of Coimbra, and research fellow, scholar-in-residence, and visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley, where she is currently based.


Chapter 1. Solidarity Art

Repressive regimes can breed creative ferment, 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 out of avocado seeds and bones, and made etchings on pieces of scrap metal. At the same time, a small group of relatives of the disappeared (individuals who were taken away by the secret police and not seen again) produced protest songs and a protest dance as a way of denouncing the disappearances. Their cueca sola, (literally "cueca alone") was an adaptation of Chile's flirtatious national dance, la cueca, in which a man seduces a woman; in the cueca sola, the woman dances by herself, suggesting that her male partner has disappeared. Young people began painting murals with anti-regime and pro-peace statements on public walls in shantytowns at night. Semiclandestine theater evolved, expressing ideas critical of the regime. A "vast cultural movement" arose that included varied forms of artistic expression aimed at survival or active resistance.

This is a book about one such form of artistic expression, which arose under the Pinochet dictatorship: the arpillera. The arpilleras were pictures in cloth depicting unemployment, poverty, repression, economic survival strategies, and protests. They were made mostly by women living in shantytowns in Santiago, Chile's capital, and were sold mostly abroad, to buyers who bought them primarily to support the women financially and express solidarity with them. In this sense, they are an example of what I term solidarity art, that is, art made by individuals experiencing poverty and repression, which others distribute, sell, and buy to express solidarity with the artists and give them financial support. This book focuses not on the arpilleras themselves, but on the transnational community of individuals who made, exported, sold, and bought arpilleras. It examines the emergence of this community, the work of the individuals within it, and the consequences of this work for both the regime and the artists. It aims to contribute to our understanding of resistance to dictatorship both within the country and abroad, and to our knowledge of art as a means of coping with and denouncing dictatorship and poverty.

Other categories of people in addition to women whose main problem was poverty also produced arpilleras, including female political prisoners, relatives of the disappeared, low-income women from three rural towns near Santiago, a group of unemployed men who had been political prisoners, and Chilean exiles in Sweden and England, but the largest category, and the focus of this book, is women inhabitants of Santiago's shantytowns. To distinguish these women from the other groups of arpillera makers, I refer to the first group as "unemployed women" or "unemployed arpilleristas" (arpillera makers), since they thought their main problem was unemployment, and both they and the organizations that supported them called their arpillera groups "workshops of unemployed people" (talleres de cesantes). These shantytowns in which the unemployed arpilleristas lived stretched in a ring around the city's center on all sides but the northeast, having emerged mostly in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s as the result of government housing programs or illegal land seizures.

The arpilleras depict mostly their makers' experiences of the dictatorship. They show, for example, shantytown women cooking food in community kitchens for local children whose families could not afford to feed them, men being turned away from factories in their search for jobs, and water-spraying vehicles and soldiers harassing protesters. Some arpilleras work at the symbolic level, showing doves in cages and hands in chains, and some illustrate the articles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thousands were produced during the dictatorship, far fewer subsequently.

Differences in content marked the arpilleras of the various categories of arpillerista. Brigitte, an arpillerista from a shantytown in southern Santiago, described the unemployed women's arpilleras in this way: "You would do an arpillera, and in it you would show what was happening here. The repression, the protests, when the police arrived and began hitting people, shooting. We would sew all that. Like the arpilleras of the detained and disappeared, because they would show more, because they had their relatives who had this problem. And we didn't. For example, in my house there was no relative in that situation. The only problem we had was unemployment." Sometimes unemployed arpilleristas made arpilleras depicting the problems of people other than themselves, such as artists protesting against the regime and being sprayed with water by military vehicles. The arpilleras of the relatives of the disappeared evoked the disappearances, often showing the kidnapping of the disappeared person, relatives searching for him or her, the emotional consequences of the disappearance for the arpillerista, and protests regarding the disappeared, although this group also depicted the economic survival strategies of the unemployed arpilleristas. The arpilleras of political prisoners were often explicitly about human rights, and depicted the prisons, exile, protests, repression, and dreams for a better society; they were "sharply denunciatory," as a woman who exported them described them. Those by the women from rural towns tended to have a countryside setting, and to include people at work in the fields or tending to animals. The men's arpilleras were "more rectilinear," "schematic," and "symmetrical" in form, in the words of a staff member of the main exporting organization. Finally, the arpilleras of exiles depicted exile, return, and political prisoners, and some contained symbolic images.

While most arpilleras are anti-regime in content, those made toward the end of Pinochet's presidency and since contain mostly cheerful scenes not intended to contain political commentary. They show, for example, fruit picking, bread baking, market stalls, children dancing in a circle, and children going to school. Even though some of these activities had been forms of economic survival while living in poverty under the regime, in depicting them the arpilleristas no longer saw themselves as criticizing the government. During that period, some arpilleras were made larger or much smaller than the original ones, or were shaped differently. New arpillera products also made their appearance: letter holders, vests, and other utilitarian objects, all containing some of the elements that are always found in arpilleras, such as houses, people, and trees, and made using the same appliqué technique. In sum, the arpilleras became less political and more bucolic in content as time went on; meanwhile, the distribution system became more commercial in orientation.

Most arpilleristas were married shantytown mothers of Spanish and indigenous descent living in Santiago, although there were also some single, widowed, separated, and partnered women who made arpilleras. They came to arpillera making because their husbands had lost their jobs during a sharp increase in shantytown unemployment caused by the regime's new neoliberal austerity measures and national security doctrine, which encouraged the politically motivated firing of leftists. As there was little unemployment compensation available and not everyone knew how to access it, these families' financial situation became critical, with many of the mothers having difficulty putting food on the table. In response to this exacerbated poverty, they tried to earn some money for their family's basic needs, and one of the ways in which they did so was by joining the arpillera groups that were mushrooming in the shantytowns, or the food-procuring groups and income-earning groups of another nature, which in some cases later became arpillera groups. They also sought jobs as maids, made food and drinks that they sold entrepreneurially in public places, and worked in emergency employment schemes, sometimes simultaneously joining arpillera groups for extra income.

The women of the shantytowns endured not only poverty, but also generalized repression, that is, the repression that all shantytown inhabitants suffered, which took the form of soldiers shooting people who were out after curfew, military men patrolling the streets, occasional helicopters overhead, and raids by soldiers on all homes in the neighborhood in the middle of the night, with the men in the family being marched off to an open space for a few hours. Some shantytown women also experienced targeted repression, that is, persecution of a more acute kind aimed at one individual, such as disappearance, incarceration, torture, murder, exile, or internal exile.

The unemployed arpilleristas were numerically dominant vis-à-vis the other categories of arpilleristas, as suggested by the number of their groups. During the first months of arpillera making, there were five groups of unemployed women and one group of relatives of the disappeared in eastern Santiago; one unemployed women's group in northern Santiago; and one "mixed workshop," containing both unemployed women and relatives of the disappeared, in the south of the city. The unemployed women's groups soon multiplied and spread throughout Santiago. Meanwhile, the arpilleristas who were relatives of the disappeared went about creating mixed workshops in various neighborhoods. Isolda, a relative, said, "We started in the workshops that were forming in churches. And we did it there; we created 'mixed workshops' (talleres mixtos), as they are called, which were people from the shantytown and us, the relatives of the detained and disappeared." While there were several mixed workshops, half of whose members were unemployed women, there were only two groups in Santiago containing just relatives of the disappeared, one of which was created at the very beginning of the regime and the other later on. Meanwhile, there were dozens of unemployed women's groups.

Solidarity Art, Solidarity Art Systems, Solidarity Art Communities, and Solidarity Flows

The solidarity orientation, or wish to lend support, of a handful of staff members of two humanitarian-cum–human rights organizations and of numerous priests was very important for the emergence of the arpillera. The first of these organizations was the Comité de Cooperación para la Paz en Chile (Committee of Cooperation for Peace in Chile), commonly called the "Comité" or "Comité Pro-Paz." It was set up less than a month after the September 1973 military coup by leaders of the Catholic Church; the Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and Methodist Pentecostal Churches; and the Jewish and Greek Orthodox faiths to help the victims of repression and recent unemployment. At the end of 1975, General Pinochet ordered that it close down, but one of its leaders, the Catholic cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, re-created it in January 1976 under a new name, the Vicaría de la Solidaridad (Vicariate of Solidarity). It ceased to be ecumenical, and its structure was altered slightly, but its work remained the same. As the cardinal made it legally part of the archdiocese of Santiago, it was relatively protected from another enforced closure by General Pinochet and from violence by soldiers, but its staff endured harassment.

One of the Comité's and the Vicaría's goals was to help shantytown families cope with unemployment and impoverishment. Part of their work in this regard involved encouraging shantytown women to make arpilleras and finding buyers for them, locally and abroad. The Comité and the Vicaría exported arpilleras by the thousands, mostly to Europe, but also to North America, Latin America, and Australia. They sent them to Chilean exiles, human rights activists, and church staff, who were willing to sell them to the public in order to help the arpilleristas. These sellers set up stalls or exhibited for this purpose at Chilean and "Third World" solidarity events (as they called them), music festivals, churches after Mass, universities, women's buildings, neighborhood fairs, and craft markets, and some sellers sold to charities and fair trade shops. Most of the buyers were locals in the countries in which the sellers sold, and did not normally know much about the situation in Chile but learned more in the process of talking to the seller. They "bought out of solidarity" (compraron por solidaridad), as the arpilleristas, Vicaría staff, and sellers put it, wanting to help the women and express their support for the pro-democracy struggle. Sellers called them gente solidaria (solidarity-oriented or supportive people). Chilean exiles also bought arpilleras, in part as a way of sending money to the women. Within Chile, leftist Chileans, foreign visitors, and visiting spouses of exiles were the main buyers of arpilleras, although they were far fewer in number than the buyers abroad. They bought secretly, mostly from the Vicaría's office and directly from arpillera groups.

The arpilleras, as mentioned earlier, are an example of solidarity art. The central characteristics of solidarity art that distinguish it from other forms of art are that it is distributed, sold, and bought by individuals wanting to express solidarity with the artists and send them money. Solidarity art tends not to be made by trained artists or to be "high art"; often it is art that some might classify as craft. It may or may not contain a critique of the government. Usually it is made collectively. Solidarity artists are active in many parts of the world; in the occupied territories of Palestine, for example, women embroider small bags that activists sell at peace marches abroad, such as at the anti-Iraq war march in San Francisco in May 2007, during which Palestinian immigrants were selling from stalls in Union Square in the center of the city, where the march ended. In the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, indigenous women adapted the dolls they made to represent the Zapatistas, a Maya group struggling for indigenous rights, and liberals in Europe and elsewhere sold them in the 1980s to raise money for the struggle.

Although solidarity art is born of repression and poverty, its makers may be far from the impassioned individuals we might imagine them to be. Even when their art is denunciatory, they do not necessarily make it in order to protest or denounce; instead, they may be motivated by financial considerations or a wish to lessen their distress. Over time, however, ideological motivations may arise in addition to pragmatic ones, with the artists coming to want to denounce their oppression and poverty. Similarly, their motives may not be art-focused initially, and the ways in which they see themselves may not be art-centered; the artists may view themselves as doing a job to earn an income, more than as making art, and they may be slow to consider themselves artists, or never acquire this self-perception. They may never have engaged in an artistic activity previously, other than that which goes into work such as cooking and sewing, and they may have slipped into art making quite by chance, as an unintended consequence of another activity or objective, such as earning money.

There are similarities between solidarity art and fair trade products. The idea behind fair trade is to support producers in industrializing countries by offering them a fair price, thus avoiding exploitative practices. In a similar way, the sellers and buyers of solidarity art sell and buy in part to support individuals or a humanitarian cause. What distinguishes solidarity art from many fair trade products is primarily the way it is sold and bought: the aim of the fair trade organization is to make a profit, and fair trade buyers tend to purchase so as to acquire. Those who sell solidarity art aim not for a profit for themselves, but rather for money to give to those whom they support. Similarly, the buyers of solidarity art buy largely so as to give; the wish to acquire the art for themselves may also be a motive but is not the primary or exclusive one. A further distinguishing feature is that the solidarity art may contain messages about the suffering or resistance of the group being supported, whereas fair trade products rarely do. Solidarity art may change over time, however, losing its political content and becoming more like other fair trade products; it may even end up being sold mainly in fair trade shops, as happened to the arpilleras in the late 1980s and thereafter.

Taken together, the activities of production, distribution, selling, and buying of solidarity art constitute what I term a solidarity art system. The word system is chosen to evoke a bundle of coordinated activities, as in a machine. Solidarity, in the sense of giving support to others, is the fuel that powers this system. It is the prime motivation for buyers' buying, sellers' selling, and exporters' exporting, and it is even, indirectly, a motive for artists' art making in that the artists hope and think that people will buy their work out of solidarity. Solidarity is the raison d'être of solidarity art systems.

The artists, exporters, sellers, and buyers who make this system work are a solidarity art community. Howard Saul Becker has brought us the concept of the "art world" to describe "all the people whose activities are necessary to the production of the characteristic works which that world, and perhaps others as well, define as art." Whereas "art world" refers to the people involved in the production of the art, "art community" refers to a broader group of people whose activities are necessary not only for the production but also for the distribution, selling, and buying of the art. However, a solidarity art community is more than a network of individuals cooperating to produce, export, sell, and buy art. Its members feel that there is shared thinking within the community, as well as a shared political stance; shared emotions; a sense of shared danger; shared protective measures; and shared secret information, trust, and mutual dependence as regards safety from repression. Solidarity art communities are different from other art communities in that solidarity is what motivates all parties. Another distinguishing feature is that what flows through solidarity art communities is more than art and money. Artworks together with information about suffering, instances of repression, human rights violations, and resistance flow in one direction, and money and moral support flow in the other; these constitute solidarity flows.

A solidarity art community is a resistance community that tends to be transnational. It is normally part of a broader transnational resistance movement that aims to help the survivors of a repressive regime and rid the country of its oppressor. The solidarity art system that such communities keep in motion is a particularly well-functioning part of the resistance movement, because there is something tangible that is circulating, and because most of the people within the solidarity art community are united by a simple, concrete, shared goal: to send money to groups in need and express solidarity with them. Hence solidarity art becomes the focal point for the formation of a transnational network of individuals working together to bring about the end of a repressive government.

Solidarity art is a subset within a broader category that I term resistance art, that is, art that helps the artists survive, criticize those in power, or in some other way participate in resistance against a repressive government. Resistance art, like solidarity art, may or may not contain a critique. Solidarity art is a special kind of resistance art in that people help sell it and buy it in order to express solidarity with the artists and support them financially; within the broader category of resistance art are art forms that people sell and buy for other reasons. Dissident art, for example, is a subset of resistance art that people do not by definition sell and buy to express solidarity and support the artists. As a subset, it does, however, intersect with solidarity art in that some solidarity art expresses dissent from the powers that be, a central characteristic of dissident art.

Resistance art has emerged under numerous repressive regimes, and during repressive periods under ostensibly democratic governments. In eastern Turkey, the Kurds have for decades used song to resist enforced "Turkification." In Soviet Russia, many resistance artists produced their work and exhibited secretly in apartments and other nonstandard places. In Hitler's Germany, artists produced anti-Nazi postcards. During the Second World War in France, writers used literature as a form of struggle against German occupation, and in Prague, rabbis, when publicly humiliated by Nazis, sang in defiance. In China, student members of the 1988 pro-democracy movement constructed a statue of democracy in Tiananmen Square, symbolizing the freedom for which they were struggling, and they sang songs and published poetry containing hidden messages in newspapers. Brazil under dictatorship witnessed "theater of the oppressed," caricature, and music against the military regime. During oppressive periods in the history of the United States, slaves produced slave narratives, Japanese Americans in internment centers made crafts, and Chicanos and Chicanas made murals against state repression and cultural and economic exclusion.

One of this book's aims is to elucidate the concept of solidarity art. The book proposes that for solidarity art to emerge and continue to be produced under dictatorship, several key elements are necessary: first, artists with a compelling enough reason for making the art that they are willing to face the risks involved. These artists must also be able to overcome barriers such as repression, fear, gender expectations, and the absence of freedom of expression, and if the art is made in groups, barriers that would hinder group formation and continued activity, such as the absence of freedom of assembly. It is helpful but not essential if the artists know of other art forms made with inexpensive materials by people similar to themselves. A second necessary component for the emergence and production of solidarity art is buyers who are aware of the existence of the dictatorship and repression. Many, in the course of conversation with sellers of the art, become moved by the plight of the artists to the extent that they wish to offer support. A third is sellers who inspire trust that the money they collect will go to the artists. These sellers help build buyers' trust through face-to-face conversation, in what is an example of "transnational brokerage."

Fourth, since solidarity artists may have few or no contacts that could help them sell their work, it is helpful that there be individuals or supporting institutions with contacts who are willing to sell and buy, both locally and abroad. The individuals or supporting institutions may have additional assets such as moral authority, financial means, a reputation as defenders of human rights, and the ability to offer protection from the onslaughts of the armed forces. These assets enable them to develop a network of sellers abroad, and make potential art makers less fearful of producing the art or joining groups in which it is made. Also helpful for the emergence of solidarity art is the support of local members of the clergy known to the artists and trusted by them. They can offer the artists a room in which to meet where they feel relatively safe, help recruit new group members, and help sell their work.

As suggested earlier, a "solidarity orientation," or wish to help, is central to solidarity art systems. It is what motivates the supporting individuals or institutions, exporters, buyers, and sellers to do what they do. Buyers bought arpilleras and exiles and local human rights activists sold them so as to help the women who made them, and this same motivation prompted the Comité and the Vicaría, Communist Party members, and feminist organizations to export the arpilleras, and shantytown priests to support arpillera making in many ways. These individuals, and the staff of these institutions, feel sympathy for the victims and survivors of the regime and indignation with the oppressor, and these emotions fuel their solidarity orientation.

As well as examining the emergence and functioning of a solidarity art system, this book explores the consequences of solidarity art making, both for a dictatorship and for the artists. Solidarity art may whittle away the power of a dictatorship by helping inform people abroad and at home about human rights violations and social problems caused by the regime's policies. It can raise economic, moral, and political support for the victims and resisters of the regime. It may serve as a secret marker of membership in the anti-regime community and symbolize this community. If the artists work in a group, it is not merely the artworks that chip away at the regime but also the collective nature of their making. Art-making groups bring people out of isolation in a context in which forming organizations is difficult because of repression and fear. The groups form links with other resistance-oriented groups, and this helps rebuild civil society. In addition, they are spaces in which members can learn about and discuss human rights and the causes and extent of poverty and repression in the country. This, in turn, makes the artists more likely to consider engaging in other forms of resistance and more likely to vote against the dictator should the opportunity arise. Solidarity art groups, then, are cells of resistance against authoritarian regimes, even if the artists did not join them with this resistance as their intention.

As well as shedding light on the questions of how solidarity art may emerge and be produced and distributed under a repressive regime, and the consequences of such production, this book offers insight into a number of other issues. One of these is the question of how repression affects solidarity art systems. Repression, it suggests, affects the production, export, selling, and reception of solidarity art, as well as the art itself. The arpilleristas, for example, met in their local shantytown church in part because they needed a place that was relatively safe from repression. They had to make their arpilleras in secret; when they worked after curfew, some blocked their windows with blankets and used candles, and when they stopped working, they hid their arpilleras. When taking the arpilleras from their workshop to the Vicaría, some arpilleristas hid them under their skirts. The Vicaría staff forced the arpilleristas to tone down their more strongly denunciatory arpilleras because they grew afraid after arpillera making was criticized on the television news and in newspapers and packages of arpilleras were opened at the airport. They also devised strategies for preventing the arpilleras from being discovered as they were shipped out of Chile. Abroad, some sellers had their mail checked, and others found themselves the target of unpleasant articles in the Chilean press. The repression influenced sellers in still another way: it was something they talked about with buyers while explaining the arpilleras. Buyers bought arpilleras because they were moved to compassion, in part because of what they heard about the repression. Repression, then, affected every part of the arpillera system (the solidarity art system for arpilleras).

The book also sheds light on the ways in which gender affects solidarity art systems, proposing that it influences the production, distribution, and buying of the art in addition to the art's form and content. In Chile, the women used the traditionally feminine skill of sewing to make their arpilleras. In them, they showed repression and poverty as they, as shantytown women, experienced them. The written messages that they put into their arpilleras often contained spelling mistakes and uncertain handwriting, reflecting the limited opportunity for an education that shantytown women tended to have. Shantytown-based gender expectations were part of the motivation for making arpilleras, in that as women, the arpilleristas were responsible for putting food in the pot (parar la olla), and so felt compelled to find income-earning work when their husbands were unemployed and there was no money for meals. These same gender expectations created constraints; shantytown wives were supposed to stay at home looking after house and children, and so some faced reluctant or angry husbands when they went out to their workshop meetings, despite the family's need for money.

Motherhood impacts solidarity art systems and the solidarity art itself. It infused the way the arpilleristas worked; they took their children to workshop meetings and integrated them into arpillera making at home, appreciating the fact that with this work they could keep an eye on them while they sewed. In their arpilleras, the arpilleristas depicted children, sometimes their own children, sitting at the community kitchen, begging for food, languishing in jail, or being kidnapped, subsequently to disappear. The fact that the arpilleristas were nearly all mothers shaped the act of selling arpilleras many thousands of miles away, in that the sellers told buyers that the arpilleras were made by impoverished shantytown mothers struggling to feed their children. In doing so, they were drawing on notions of womanhood as motherhood and motherhood as requiring protection, and this resonated with buyers.


The findings in this book emerge from the analysis of interviews; photo elicitation; archival data; ethnographic data, including participant observation field notes; and visual data created by photographing and by scanning photographs. I conducted 121 individual and group interviews, five and fifteen years after the end of the dictatorship, in 1995–1996 and 2005–2006. I interviewed arpillera makers; Vicaría and Comité staff; the staff of other institutions and commercial enterprises that sold or exported arpilleras; sellers of arpilleras in Switzerland, France, and England; and buyers in Europe, the United States, and Chile. I also interviewed professionals from the nonprofit sector in Chile who offered training to arpilleristas or interacted with them in other ways, and I interviewed General Pinochet's wife, who was the director of a large Chilean organization of mothers' centers in which low-income women made pro-regime arpilleras. All my interviewees came from a snowball sample with a very broad base. I found my first shantytown women interviewees with the help of a Vicaría staff person who had sent their arpilleras abroad, and subsequent ones thanks to referrals by these women, by other Vicaría employees based in other areas of the city, by the staff of other humanitarian organizations, and by middle-class professionals who worked with shantytown women's organizations. The shantytown arpilleristas whom I interviewed came from the north, south, east, and west of the city. The interviews lasted between one and three hours and were semistructured. Aiming to let the interviewees speak for themselves, I used a short list of topics to be covered. Sometimes, as the interviewee was speaking, I probed for more detailed information. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded; they were the main source of data on which the analysis for this book is based.

As well as semistructured interviews, I conducted a small amount of photo elicitation during fieldwork in 1995–1996 and 2005. This is a technique, described by John Collier in 1967, whereby the researcher asks the research subject to talk about what is in a photograph. I showed some shantytown arpilleristas photographs of arpilleras by other groups and recorded their reactions; I also asked them to explain what some of these photographs depicted. Additionally, I conducted what I term "art elicitation," whereby I showed my subjects other examples of cloth-based artwork, including arpilleras by different groups in Chile and by women in Peru. Through this photo elicitation and art elicitation I learned about matters of technique, form, and content, and about shantytown women's experiences under dictatorship. For example, as most of the arpilleras I showed my subjects depicted women's poverty, the repression, organizations for coping with poverty, and protests, my subjects would tell me about these issues in the course of describing what was happening in the arpillera.

Another source of data was a year's worth of field notes from participant observation with groups of arpilleristas. I began this fieldwork in July 1995, five years after General Pinochet stepped down. Two of the arpillera groups were based in southern Santiago, and were composed of women from shantytowns there. A third group was the Folk Music Group (Conjunto Folclórico) of the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared (Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos [AFDD]), nearly all of whose members had been arpilleristas. They were the wives, partners, mothers, sisters, daughters, and a sister-in-law of people who had disappeared, and they lived in shantytowns in different areas of Santiago, as well as in more central working-class neighborhoods. In addition to these groups, I observed two arpillera groups that also contained women from a range of shantytowns and more centrally located working-class neighborhoods and met once a week in a nonprofit organization in central Santiago to make arpilleras and learn how to run an arpillera-making cooperative. I also observed a group of women who made embroidered pictures and lived in a working-class neighborhood in Macul, a neighborhood southeast of the city center that was slightly too well-off to be called a shantytown. Because these last three groups had either formed after the dictatorship or did not make arpilleras, I did not analyze my field notes about them for this book, but rather gained insights from reading them and learned from the contrasts between these groups and my "main" groups.

All these groups accepted me as a participant observer, in which role I watched their work and helped as much as I could without changing what they normally did. I observed them for a year, except in the case of one of the groups of women from southern Santiago, which I observed for two months. Even though I concluded the participant observation five years after General Pinochet stepped down, the data gained are still pertinent to the issue of the emergence, production, and distribution of solidarity art under dictatorship, as they enabled me to learn about how women made arpilleras, about the shantytowns, and about shantytown family life. For example, while walking to the bus stop with an arpillerista one day, I learned that shantytown families worry about burglary and so build fences, preferring metal fences to wooden ones, but not normally being able to afford them initially. Snippets of information such as this helped me better appreciate how women in shantytowns experienced poverty.

The book also draws on a visual database that I created, containing several hundred photographs of arpilleras, and a few of arpilleristas and their homes and of shops selling arpilleras in Chile and Europe. I began photographing arpilleras in 1994, beginning with the collections of human rights activists who had helped sell them in England, arpilleras displayed in fair trade shops in Switzerland, and a buyer's collection in Los Angeles. When I began fieldwork in Chile in 1995, I photographed arpilleras owned by the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, ex-Vicaría employees, returned exiles, human rights organizations, and researchers. I later added to my database scanned copies of photographs of arpilleras from books, journal articles, and booklets.
Lastly, the book draws on archival research. I mined the Vicaría's archive at the archdiocese of Santiago (the Fundación Documentación y Archivo de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad) for articles and photographs of arpilleras. I took photographs of arpilleras hanging on its walls, and of photos of very early arpilleras contained in its photo albums, integrating these images into my visual database. In addition to the interviews, photo elicitation, fieldwork, creation of a visual database, and archival research, I read memoirs by people who had lived in or visited shantytowns during the dictatorship. These helped me learn about subjective experiences of shantytown life, and so inform this work.

My analysis of the data began while I was in the field. I regularly wrote analytical memos about important themes in the interviews and field notes, later checking what I had written by asking questions. Once the interviews were transcribed, I analyzed them by coding them, that is, by identifying key themes and giving them a code, and marking that code in the text. I then compared the parts of the interviews and field notes that were pertinent to a particular code, following the principles of grounded theory.36 I used the articles I found in the Vicaría's archive to supplement information gained from interviews and as a way of checking what my other data revealed; one article, for example, was useful with regard to the thorny question of who had had the idea of making arpilleras. With the visual database, I conducted a thematic analysis of the images of arpilleras so as to be able to identify the most prominent themes in them.

The book's structure follows the arpilleras on their journey from shantytown arpillera workshops to the Comité and the Vicaría, to the sellers in Chile and abroad, and finally to the buyers. Toward its close, it examines the consequences of the arpillera system for the various parties involved. Chapters 2 and 3 address the emergence of arpillera making, and Chapter 4, its spread. Chapter 4 also introduces the arpillera groups of the relatives of the disappeared, political prisoners, and women from rural towns. Chapter 5 examines the production of arpilleras. Chapter 6 explores initial efforts to sell arpilleras, the emergence of the international distribution system, and selling by human rights activists abroad. Chapter 7 introduces the reader to buyers and the buying process, and Chapter 8 explores selling, gift giving, and exhibiting in Chile, along with government crackdowns. Chapter 9 looks at the women's and the Vicaría's perspectives on the consequences of arpillera making, while Chapter 10 provides concluding commentary.

The Dictatorship and What Preceded It

Unlike many Socialist regimes that emerged in the twentieth century after a violent episode, Chile took a more peaceful route. "The Chilean way" (La vía chilena), as President Salvador Allende called it, would bring Socialism to Chile through democracy and legal means. Allende became the first democratically elected Marxist president in the world, taking office on November 3, 1970, leading a coalition of leftist parties called Popular Unity (Unidad Popular, or UP). His Popular Unity program was premised on "beginning the construction of socialism in Chile." Whereas the orthodox capitalist model for economic development encouraged private capital and foreign investment and anticipated trickle-down, the Popular Unity program emphasized using the power of the state to reorient resources toward the poor through the continuation of agrarian reform, enlarging the sectors of the economy controlled by the state, and instituting social welfare programs that included giving a pint of milk a day to each child, expanding health services for the poor, creating day-care centers, and constructing low-income housing. It also aimed to generate employment at a decent wage level for all Chileans, reduce inflation, accelerate economic growth, and create a national unified education system. Importantly, it emphasized that Popular Unity would be multiparty and respect the rights of the opposition. Although a change of course for Chile, this program was in some respects an extension of what had been done earlier; efforts toward land reform in rural areas had been promoted since 1958, for example, becoming more systematic after 1964. Chile's development strategies during the twentieth century had alternated between an export-oriented or growth-directed outward model and a growth-directed inward model emphasizing industrialization through import substitution.

The Popular Unity's plans met with severe opposition. The Christian Democratic Party slowed down change in congressional negotiations, and the delays motivated impatient rural inhabitants of the south to occupy large farms illegally, often encouraged by such organizations as the Revolutionary Peasant Movement. Factions within the Popular Unity coalition became apparent, with some members wanting to move toward Socialism quickly, ignoring legal constraints, and others preferring to advance through legal means. There was also opposition from upper-middle-class housewives, who marched in the streets banging empty pots in October 1972, when food was lacking in local supermarkets. Meanwhile, business owners concerned about nationalization shut down businesses and services in what was known as the "October Strike," which lasted for four weeks and was settled with the incorporation of military men into the cabinet, the beginning of the armed forces' overt politicization. Allende thus faced severe political challenges.

He also had to cope with economic problems. Inflation rose very rapidly, and by July 1973, the inflation rate for the preceding twelve months had reached 323 percent, fueled by large government deficits. As an authority on the period states, "The Chilean wage earner saw his entire 22 percent wage readjustment disappear in the first five months of 1972, and shortages of food and replacement parts led to massive dissatisfaction expressed in women's marches, shopkeepers' strikes, and continued violence in the streets." Meanwhile, alarmed about the threat to U.S. corporate interests that Allende's expropriation policies represented, the Nixon administration carried out a program of economic destabilization, denying Chile loans and credits from both American and international lending institutions and secretly funding opposition groups.

Chileans had feared a coup but had not expected the levels of violence that accompanied the coup of September 11, 1973. It was on this day that the leaders of the armed forces stormed La Moneda, Chile's governmental palace. Before they had seized control completely, Salvador Allende addressed the nation to inform it about the coup and his unwillingness to resign. Remaining within La Moneda, he allegedly committed suicide. The acting Commander in Chief of the Military, Augusto Pinochet, very quickly became the head of the military junta that was to rule Chile until 1990.

In the weeks and months after the coup, thousands of Chileans who had supported Allende were detained by the police, military, or secret police. Soldiers raided homes, rounded up thousands of suspects, took them to Santiago's main soccer stadiums, and tortured and executed many of them. The targets of this state violence were members of the Allende government, the Popular Unity parties, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria; MIR), and workers and peasants suspected of participating in extralegal takeovers of factories and estates. Of the 33,221 detained in Chile over the course of the dictatorship, 94 percent were tortured by the DINA, Pinochet's Directorate of National Intelligence, akin to the Gestapo, and its successor, the National Information Center (Central Nacional de Informaciones; CNI). These institutions were responsible for many of the detentions and disappearances that occurred as well. The numbers killed during the regime were an estimated 1,068, not including the disappeared, which are currently numbered at 1,163. Adherents of the political Left had little choice but to flee Chile, and many were kicked out, becoming refugees and exiles. As an authority on exile states, "Between 1973 and 1988, an estimated 200,000 men, women, and children--nearly 2 percent of Chile's population--were forced out of their country for political reasons."

The military junta's first political acts included the banning or recessing of political parties, the dissolution of congress, the implementation of a curfew and state of siege, strict censorship and control of the press, and the reversal of many of Allende's reforms. Unions soon became severely weakened, while leftist parties and organizations went underground and their leaders were harassed, fired, imprisoned, or executed, or escaped Chile. In December 1973, the regime issued a decree forbidding elections at any level, even in athletic and educational institutions.

The economy was put into the hands of a group of economists known as the "Chicago Boys," whose neoliberal economic policies between 1973 and 1981 fostered the growth of nontraditional exports, consumer imports, and foreign loans. They abolished all price controls, reduced tariffs, devalued the currency, slashed public spending, privatized industries that had previously been nationalized, and opened up Chilean markets to foreign investment. The government responded to high social costs with a minimal safety net that targeted expectant mothers, small children, and the "extremely poor." The results of such policies have been debated. Inflation and unemployment declined, although in 1980 the number of jobless was still twice that of 1970. The years 1975–1976 and 1982 were ones of economic crisis and extremely high unemployment. Protests swept the country in 1983, much as they had under Allende. There followed an adjustment of the radical neoliberal economic policies; as an authority on economic policy notes, "The change from dogmatic, orthodox neoliberalism to a more flexible, 'pragmatic' neoliberalism brought some tangible benefits. By 1985, the economy had begun to recover."

Cells of resistance emerged throughout the nation, although because of the high levels of repression and fear, much of their activity was clandestine or semiclandestine. The "resisters" were primarily human rights advocates, leftists, centrists, workers, church leaders, and politicians. Shantytown women and men were also important participants, as were students, trade union leaders, and shantytown priests and nuns. Many of the subsistence organizations that shantytown inhabitants formed in order to survive their impoverishment worked "on the side" to raise consciousness, inform, affirm community, participate in street protests, and give support to the survivors of targeted repression and people even poorer than they were. Relatives of the disappeared, executed, and exiled and of political prisoners formed associations in which they worked to inform the outside world about what was happening, wrote letters to Chile's leaders, conducted hunger strikes, and protested in creative ways in public places. Resistance from artists and intellectuals took the form of demonstrations, plays, writings, and underground organizing. In both shantytowns and middle-class neighborhoods, cultural resistance was enacted through murals, music, theater, poetry, and staged protest actions that were made to appear spontaneous. The earliest street protests occurred in the mid-1970s, the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared being among the first to organize them. Mass protests did not begin until May 1983, when miners, students, workers, dissident political leaders, and members of shantytown groups took to the streets to register their discontent with the regime's economic, political, and social programs. Abroad, Chilean exiles organized to raise money and inform people and the government in their host countries about human rights violations, as did many sympathetic human rights–oriented locals.

Pinochet attempted to legitimize his authoritarian rule through the development of a new formal constitution, which he brought to a public referendum. The opposition was unable to mount a successful campaign against it and was hurt by the lack of an official alternative and by disagreements among parties; the Chilean public voted in favor of it in 1980. The constitution called for a plebiscite by 1989 on a presidential candidate to be chosen by the military junta; if the candidate won, he would serve as president until 1997; if he lost, competitive elections for president and congress would be held a year later. If the public voted against Pinochet in the plebiscite, the position of commander in chief of the army was reserved for him. When 1988 arrived, the opposition united in preparation for the plebiscite, and the Chilean populace voted Pinochet out of power, setting the stage for a return to democracy.

The democratic transition was the product of a pact between the right-wing forces that supported Pinochet's dictatorship and the center-Left sectors that took over in 1990. Its basis was the commitment to retain the neoliberal model and arguably to keep civil society demobilized so as to guarantee governability. The civilian governments increased free trade policies, Chile's economy continued to depend on commodity exports, and foreign investment in Chile rose significantly between 1990 and 1999. At the same time, public investments in infrastructure, education, and healthcare increased. After 1990, the economy showed structural growth and enabled almost everyone to experience improved living standards.

From 1990 until 2009, Chile was governed by a democratically elected alliance of center-Left civilian political parties called the Alliance of Democratic Parties (Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia, or "la Concertación"), and only in 2010 was a right-wing president elected. The Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin was the Concertación's first president, taking office in 1990. His government's main goals were to smooth over civil-military relations, reduce poverty, respond to popular demands for social services, and assure economic growth. The Concertación began reforming social and labor policies within the free market framework. Many of Aylwin's programs were not maintained under the next president, Eduardo Frei (1994–2000), because of budget constraints, but the president after him, the Socialist Ricardo Lagos (2000–2006), created new social and poverty programs. President Michele Bachelet (2006–2010) reinforced and expanded the public policies directed at the poor and disadvantaged. Sebastián Piñera, president since 2010, heads a center-Right coalition with open economic policies, moderate social welfare policies, and reform designed to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.

Chile did not become a democratic country immediately; many authoritarian "enclaves" remained. General Pinochet had placed numerous reactionary judges loyal to the armed forces in the courts, shaped electoral laws to favor his followers, appointed nonelected senators that included retired military commanders, created rules preventing the president from firing military leaders, made the constitution he had drawn up in 1980 difficult to change, and instituted an amnesty for human rights crimes committed during the dictatorship. He continued as head of the army, keeping present the threat of military intervention until he stepped down and became a senator for life in 1998. Civilian governments were eventually successful in removing these authoritarian holdovers, but as late as 2009 the Chilean Right enjoyed a virtual veto power. Although in the 1990s little progress was made toward removing these holdovers, the changes became faster after Pinochet's detention in London in 1998. Aylwin's government had created a Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, which produced the Rettig Report, as it was called, documenting a total of 2,279 killings, not counting the cases involving the disappeared, about whom information gradually came to light as Chile's democracy grew stronger. However, trial and punishment of members of the armed forces for human rights abuses came only slowly, gathering momentum under President Michele Bachelet. Pinochet died in 2006, on Human Rights Day, without having been formally tried.


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