In the Pinochet era, Chilean women stitched a cry for help
Put simply, an arpillera (ahr-peh-YEH-rah) is a piece of burlap decorated with embroidery and appliqué. Popular in South America, they often portray daily life or sunny landscapes.
In Chile, however, some arpilleras are much darker. In these, figures cry, protest or fall in a running stitch of gunfire. Women are pictured as having chained themselves to the halls of government buildings. Or delicate, hand-stitched lettering just asks, "¿Dónde están?"
These are the works of women victimized by the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s and '80s, which took power and held it with the aid of the American CIA. When their husbands and sons suddenly disappeared — to be exiled, murdered, or who knows — they had no answers and no way to support their families.
So with the help of the Catholic Church, which was somewhat protected during Pinochet's regime, they met up in groups to make arpilleras, stitching scenes of protest. Some were sold by the church in hidden shops, to help the women make money; others were smuggled outside the country, to help tell the Chilean story.
One woman involved with the latter movement was Dr. Marjorie Agosín, who studied the arpillera movement from the start of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1973. Now a professor at Wellesley College near Boston, Agosín will come to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs on Thursday to lead a tour of arpilleras from her collection as well as discuss and read from her book, Tapestries of Hope, Threads of Love: The Arpillera Movement in Chile, 1974-1994.
In one passage, she writes, "I have always felt the arpilleras are the remnants of an emergency, demanding to be displaced and sent elsewhere."