Tag Archives | los desaparecidos

Week #4 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Arpilleras

A few days late on this one, thanks to traveling, but here is week #4, about the arpilleras of Chile and the arpilleristas who made them.

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During the reign of Augosto Pinochet (a dictator in power from 1973 to 1990) in Chile, men were disappearing and the government wouldn’t tell the people who were asking why. Women were allowed to go once a week to the local government office and ask, but no one would tell them anything. (According to some reports, during his time in power, over 3,000 people were killed and around 30,000 were tortured.)

Added to all of this was that people couldn’t talk to each other because they didn’t know who was supplying what information to the government. Under the safety of the church, the Archdiocese of Santiago, set up a human rights organization where women could come together and make tapestries about what was happening.

Folk lore has it that Peace Corps volunteers smuggled these tapestries out of the country (often with little pockets in the back containing paper with more information) and that is how the world found out about what Pinochet was doing.

Below is more information taken from various sources around the web. Clicking on the text and on the photos will take you to the initial source. As you will see, these pieces are still being made as people remember “the disappeared” (los desaparecidos).


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It began with a group of mothers, almost 14 mothers. They met in morgues, hospitals, former tribunals of justice, and realized that all the elements that were such an important part of Chilean society were closed. Completely vanished. And they sought help by contacting a newly developed organization that was a branch of the Catholic Church, called the Vicariate of Solidarity. The Chilean Catholic Church took a very courageous position towards the disappearances and abuses at the hands of the Pinochet government, very different than in Argentina or Guatemala. The more I think about this story, the more I believe that it’s a story of belief – belief, magic, and storytelling. The women that suffered the most, as we know throughout the stories that we see in the media, as we know through Katrina, were the disadvantaged. The poor. Poverty is also a punishment for authoritarian governments. These women were trained in the most traditional art of femaleness in Latin America, which was to sew, to embroider.


The colourful patchwork scenes make the arpilleras visually deceiving. Using a traditional form of folk art, they mix coded imagery with contemporary history. They depict the often tragic situations experienced by thousands of Chileans every day. These honest and sometimes brutal accounts provided future generations with a popular version of history, one that contradicted the official version depicting General Pinochet as the savior of Chilean democracy. The circulation of the arpilleras outside Chile brought this alternative history to the larger world.

Just as they went unrecognized as revolutionaries, the arpilleristas were also unrecognized as artists. This, along with the folk art appearance of their work, initially helped them remain under the military authorities’ radar. Exporting arpilleras became illegal once they were seen as anti-Chilean, but they continued to be smuggled out of the country.

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In this arpillera [above], Violeta Morales is outspoken about Chile’s infamous history of torture, which was long unknown in the wider world. As Co-ordinator of the group Sabastián Acevedo, which was primarily concerned with the issue of torture, she was relentless in ensuring that people everywhere were informed of the widespread use of torture in Chile. With other women, she founded the Folkloric Musical Ensemble of Relatives of the detained-disappeared, as: “…we also wished to sing our message of protest.”
Agosin, M., (2008)

Violeta Morales died in 2002, never having found her brother Newton, who disappeared in 1974.

(You can see more photos here, which are linked to more explanation regarding their creation.)


“The arpilleras were often made from clothing of the disappeared and the names of missing loved ones can be found on some pieces. Other sewn words and expressions were simple protests: Dόnde estás? Where are you? The censorship that characterized Chile under Pinochet’s dictatorship defeated written words that opposed his regime. The handwork of the arpilleristas testified for the oppressed and detailed the struggle for truth and justice despite the suppression of the military government.

Bold lines and colors relayed powerful messages depicted in folk-like scenes. An arpillera of a woman dancing signifies how women now performed the national dance La Cueca alone with the fate of their husbands unknown. Other images depict military violence, bloodshed and armed figures.

The arpilleras were made during clandestine meetings in dark basements or churches. The sewn testimonials of suffering were sold by the women so that their messages were released into the world and so they could feed their families.”





More reading:
*Roberta Bacic’s amazing online collection of arpilleras
*Prospectjournal.org: A Visual History of the Poor Under Pinochet
*Chilean Women’s Resistance in the Arpillera Movement


Week #2 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism: Madres de La Plaza de Mayo!

So last week, we started our journey of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism! You can read all about it (and Gandhi spinning khadi!) here and over at #HistCraftivism.

The goal here is for me to share with you what I learned in two hours of research. I’ve decided to mainly go with words and photos that are linked to original sources, so you can either choose to read a little or a lot.

Hope you enjoy!


During the late 70s and early 80s in Argentina, there was what was known as the “Dirty War.” In short, the government didn’t like anyone who they possibly saw as a threat… and often killed anyone who fit in this category. A popular method of doing so included throwing them out of airplanes. That were in the air. Many of the individuals that were disappearing were quite young, those that were pregnant had their babies taken from them at birth and they were given to members of the regime.

Not getting any answers from the government as to where their children had gone, the mothers of the disappeared “Los Desaparecidos” in Buenos Aires met at a large public square, Plaza de Mayo, wearing handkerchiefs embroidered with the name of their disappeared loved one in blue every Thursday. They were the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. Grandmothers met and came out as well in embroidered handkerchiefs, Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo.

There is a lot to read about them, so if you’re interested, jump off into one of these amazing articles and papers linked below. The photographs are links to articles as well.



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Within a terrorist state, those who spoke out put their own lives in danger. Yet, in the face of the disappearance of their children, in 1977 a group of mothers began to meet each Thursday in the large Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, the site of Argentina’s government. There they walked in non-violent demonstrations. As they walked they chanted: “We want our children; we want them to tell us where they are.” The madres said, “No matter what our children think they should not be tortured. They should have charges brought before them. We should be able to see them, visit them.”



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The “Dirty War,” as it came to be called, arose out of a century and, to some extent, a tradition of political instability. According to Anne J. Barry, “The political heritage of Argentina has always been mixed and somewhat unstable.” March 2



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In their grief the Mothers found each other – women who shared the same pain and anguish. At first they came together for mutual support, and then they demanded to be heard. It began with a silent vigil in the Plaza de Mayo, a public square in Buenos Aires that faces the Ministry of the Interior. The vigil became a weekly event. Each Thursday, scores of these middle-aged women, the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, stood silently, identified only by their white kerchiefs, and sometimes by the pictures they held of their missing children.

It was illegal to hold any public protest during the state of siege. But the generals did not know how to respond to this mute outcry. They resorted to ridicule; they called them the “crazy women,” las locas de Plaza de Mayo. Then they resorted to bullying and terror. The Mothers began to receive threatening phone calls and letters. Several times the whole group of them was arrested, loaded onto buses, and detained overnight. Some of the Mothers were physically attacked by government thugs. Several of them were kidnapped and disappeared. But the threats only strengthened their resolve.




In 1986, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo split in two.

One group, led by Hebe de Bonafini, became known as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Association. The second, became known as Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Founding Line.

The main differences were ideological. Ms de Bonafini’s group was against receiving state compensation of $275,000 for each disappeared child.

“You cannot put a price on life. Also, to accept this compensation you have to sign a death certificate saying when your child died. I cannot sign this as it is the people who took them who know, not me,” she says.

They also reject the forensic work to identify the remains. They want efforts concentrated on bringing those who committed the crimes to justice.

But Ms Almeida does not agree. “I respect Ms de Bonafini’s opinion, but I need closure. I would like to touch Alejandro’s bones before I die.”





Want to learn even more? Check out:
*Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo: First Responders of Human Rights
*The Encyclopedia of Peace’s entry of Madres de la Plaza de Mayo
*Building Bridges of Memory: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Cultural Politics of Maternal Memories
*Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo: Group Development from Single-Issue Protest Movement to Permanent Political Organization
*Or go crazy over on Google search!

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