La Faena: Arpillera Workshop
After Pinochet's repressive 1973 coup, many groups mobilized to cope with the sudden social change. One example was women who created patchwork tapestries, called arpilleras, to unite and highlight their social realities. There were two major types of arpilleristas: women who suffered the disappearance of their loved ones and working class women who made arpilleras for subsistence. The Vicaría de la Solidaridad, the human rights wing of the Catholic Church in Chile, assisted with financial and technological help to these women. Arpilleristas often met in small workshops (called talleres), where they could share their stories and conflicts. Because arpilleras portrayed human rights violations, arpilleras were seen as a threat to General Pinochet's government.
La Faena taller was a group of arpilleristas who started their work in Santiago in the mid 1970s. Around seven of the arpilleras in our collection come from this taller. This group consisted of women who joined as a way of steady income. The Vicaría de la Solidaridad would visit the workshops to pick up the arpilleras these women had made to sell them. At the end of the week, they would come back to pay them for their arpilleras. The La Faena taller worked alongside the neighboring taller of Lo Hermida. Both were named after the neighborhoods in which they were located, and both pertained to the larger district (or comuna) of Peñalolén. In 2012, UNESCO recognized the arpilleras of Peñalolén as "Living Human Treasures." Both Maria and Patricia continue to teach the art of apillera making to local school children in Santiago.
By the age of 12 Maria had lost both her parents. She was the oldest of three children, but when her father died each child went their separate ways. At the age of 13 Maria started working as a maid and had her first child at 17. After the coup, Maria's husband lost his job and she began her career as an arpillerista to help support the family. Her first interaction with the Vicaría was through the soup kitchens (comedores) and communal laundries they set up at the local chapel. Maria was one of the first to join the early pioneer taller of Lo Hermida. She later helped her friend Patricia from La Faena learn the art of stitching arpilleras.
When Patricia was 10 years old her father died and her mother was hospitalized. She had five siblings, and lived with her sister after her father died. At the age of 16, Patricia got married and a year later she had a child. After the coup her family was in need of money. Her mother and sister had already been making arpilleras at La Faena for a while, before Patricia joined in 1976. She was initially more comfortable working on a sewing machine as a seamstress, and was hesitant to move to hand stitching. However, she went on to become an accomplished arpillerista.
Corporación Cultural de Peñalolén. Arpilleristas de Peñalolén. May 2016. http://www.crespial.org/public_files/1469639576.pdf
Photos in this digital narrative were reproduced with the gracious permission of the Corporación Cultural de Peñalolén, who hold the copyright to the May 2016 publication listed above.