En la Clase: Stitching Resistance through Chilean Arpilleras

Arpillera coverAs you may know from yesterday’s post, we’re continuing our series of thematic workshops around the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s exhibit “Stitching Resistance: The History of Chilean Arpilleras.”  Our series began last spring, and was so popular that we decided to add a third workshop this fall, as the exhibit will be up through January, 2014.

For today’s En la Clase post, I thought I’d share some of the information and curriculum materials that we wrote about last year.  Many of our new readers may not be aware of the many resources available to teach about the art and history of the Chilean Arpilleras.  The timing is appropriate, just last week September 11th marked the anniversary of the 1973 Chilean Military Coup in which Salvador Allende was overthrown and Augusto Pinochet came to power.  The arpilleras were part of the protest movement against Pinochet. 

For those of you not familiar with the history behind the Chilean arpilleras, I’ve included an excerpt from the introduction to the exhibition provided by the National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Museum (it’s also included in the supplementary curriculum packet linked to below).

When the armed forces of Chile overthrew the administration of Salvador Allende nearly forty years ago now, the arpillera suddenly became much more than a charming and quaint appliqué, embroidery, or patchwork depiction of everyday life by Chilean and Peruvian women.  September 11, 1973 created the necessary conditions in which this art form was born and soon the arpillera became the most visual (and visible), poignant, and widespread manifestation of opposition to authoritarianism, violation of human rights, the disappearance of loved ones—all things associated with the violation of human rights of the military government that ruled Chile until 1990.

Arpilleras are a powerful art form.  Layers of sackcloth or burlap fabric (arpillera) were joined, principally through applique, to create multi-dimensional (in layers and meaning) works of protest and resistance.  Arpillera the burlap cloth became the preferred medium for resistance and protest because the material was easily obtained and inexpensive. Appliqué, embroidery, and patchwork were traditional skills of women, the widows and mothers—whose families were destroyed in the months and years following the golpe de estado of September 11, 1973.  Their artistry with humble cloth is vibrant testimony: history in textile form, every bit as compelling as any other of the visual media. The detail and composition of the works can be simple or intricate. Each one tells a story; each one conveys a message.

The exhibition, Stitching Resistance:  The History of Chilean Arpilleras, is a result of an intense collaboration by poets, artists, scholars, and curators.  Its intent is to help illuminate the artistry and the history of arpilleristas and arpilleras in the hope that what happened to Chileans between 1973 and 1990 is never forgotten.  And the artists who stitched it forever recognized.

There are a number of resources available to help teach about the arpilleras and this period of Chilean history.

  • The Making History Series from Facing History and Ourselves has an excellent thematic unit: “Stitching Truth: Women’s Protest Art in Pinochet’s Chile”.  This unit includes a series of readings and comprehension questions to help students learn both about the history of Chile and the use of art as a form of political protest.  Facing History and Ourselves has also provided complementary lesson plans on their website.  These lesson plans help students to examine the idea of civil society and civic participation creating dialogue that connects the Chilean content to various social studies standards.  These materials also include images of 9 of the arpilleras to reproduce for educational purposes.  You can access both “Stitching Truth: Women’s Protest Art in Pinochet’s Chile” and the complementary lesson plans at http://www.facinghistory.org/resources/publications/bordando-la-verdad-arte-de-.
  • For our teacher workshop we created a packet of supplementary materials to support the Facing History thematic unit discussed above.  This packet includes a short overview and introduction to the relevant themes and topics raised through the readings and lessons such as: politics and authoritarianism, women and community, abductions and desaparecidos (the disappeared ones), human rights and exile, and significant events after 1990.  Created by the National Hispanic Cultural Center Art Museum, these materials provide an important overview for teachers preparing to implement the lesson plans and readings in their classrooms.  In addition to the introductory materials, you will also find activities created around some of the readings in the “Stitching Truth: Women’s Protests Art in Pinochet’s Chile”, including a poetry activity. We’ve also included a list of books organized by reading level to support teaching about Chile, along with a list of relevant films.  Click here to access this supplementary packet.
  • Youtube also has a 5 minute trailer of the film Threads of Hope. Shot on location in Chile, Donald Sutherland narrates this moving portrait of the Chilean women who defied Pinochet’s dictatorship armed only with sewing needles and scraps of cloth from the clothes of their “disappeared” loved ones.
  • I also came across this excellent blog post, “Chilean Arpilleras: A chapter of history written on cloth”. It includes information about the history and significance of the Chilean arpilleras along with some great images.

We also created another set of materials that looked at possible ways to integrate a unit on Chilean arpilleras into your curriculum, through hands-on activities and comparing the significance of the arpilleras to the role of quilting in African American communities in our post, “En la Clase: “Comparing Herstories: The Arpilleristas of Chile and African American Women Quilters in the U.S.”  That post and links to those curriculum materials are available here.

If you’re an Albuquerque local, I hope you’ll visit the exhibit.  It’s definitely worth seeing.  For all our teachers, since the exhibit is here until January, you have plenty of time to plan a class field trip!  Just because you’re not in Albuquerque, doesn’t mean you can’t use these resources.  The thematic units linked to above include high quality images of some of the arpilleras and the youtube trailer also provides great visuals and background information.



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