Marcela Polloni was born and raised in Santiago, Chile in 1955, 18 years before the start of Pinochet’s military coup. Although she was always interested in art, when she wanted to study art in school in 1973, she could not because Pinochet had closed all art schools, forcing her to shift her focus to textile and cultural work with the organization, Telar. As a result, Polloni became interested in women and politics from a cultural perspective before becoming involved with arpilleras in 1979.
In addition to her work with the Vicariate of Solidarity, where she taught women how to make arpilleras, Polloni was also involved with the Foundation for the Protection of Children Endangered by States of Emergency (PIDEE). She began her work with this organization while she was living in Linares, a small town south of Santiago, and was in need of work. Through her connections with the Vicariate, she was able to secure work with PIDEE in Linares, working directly with women and hearing their stories.
Currently, Marcela has her own art studio where she teaches art classes in Santiago. She stopped making arpilleras once democracy returned to Chile. She is a firm believer in the importance of resistance art like arpilleras to show the truths many Chilean suffered during Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Arpilleras and the Disappeared-Deceased
The Vicariate of Solidarity began supporting women whose loved ones were victims of the dictatorship through the creation of talleres, or workshops where women learned how to make arpilleras. Marcela Polloni worked with the Vicariate in a taller, where she had first hand experiences helping many women make their first arpilleras. Using her passion for art, she was able to help women express themselves and their emotions through their art as well. Women were allowed to make up to four arpilleras a month which would then be selected for sale by the Vicariate’s employees. Polloni was also involved in the selection of these arpilleras, which she says was a very difficult job to have.
Furthermore, Polloni talks about the content of arpilleras, and the power they had to help women throughout the dictatorship. She discusses how difficult and complex life was for these women at the time, and commends the women she worked with for their bravery, strength and voice. She believes arpilleras came from the courage of women and their desire to share not only their stories, but the stories of their disappeared-deceased loved ones.
“Es una estrategia de [...] ¿cómo tenía que tener una base, una arpillera, qué cosas eran las importantes que nos representan?”// “It’s a strategy [...] how can you have a base, a single arpillera, what things are important that we want to represent?”
This media carousel reproduces one of the basic arpillera manuals for beginners, from Marcela Polloni's private collection. These manuals were distributed to new arpilleristas to help them learn the art of making arpilleras.
The First Arpilleras and the Power of Symbolism
This video contains footage taken from the hour long recorded interview we held with Marcela Polloni while in Chile in the summer of 2018. In her interview, Polloni discusses the origins of arpilleras, differences between the first arpilleras and arpilleras made in the Zona Oriente of Chile, and the value of arpilleras not only as a form of therapy, but as means of income for those making them:
Internationalization and Involvement with PIDEE
Polloni’s aforementioned involvement with PIDEE has given her some insights into some of the differences between the Vicariate and PIDEE. She says that the arpilleras commissioned for PIDEE focused more on history, making regulations more strict than those of the Vicariate. They were also sometimes oriented vertically, and often larger than those created for the Vicariate. Their larger size allowed women to use these arpilleras to tell a longer story than those made for the Vicariate which could only simply show one scene of life. Furthermore, Polloni elaborates on the significance of color in arpilleras. She suggested women use black as a background color so more vibrant colors would stand out against a dark backdrop. Furthermore, Polloni suggested women use red to border their arpilleras because of the political connections of the color. However, many women instead chose to use white yarn to border their arpilleras, neutralizing the black background. Additionally, black represents a lack of color in life and highlights the pain that many arpilleristas suffered. This use of color was a way for women to “say a lot without saying anything.”
Marcela also discusses PIDEE’s role in the internationalization of arpilleras. She believes their commercialization/exposition began in Finland and Canada, with collections sent later to London and Spain. With regards to the PIDEE now, the organization no longer exists as it did during the dictatorship due to a lack of necessity.
Marcela believes that arpilleras today have less political significance than they did during the dictatorship. While they are still made today, they are made more as an artisan craft than a political statement. Nonetheless, she considers arpilleras as tools which tell the story of what happened in Chile in picture form; something which is unique to Chile. Despite the dangers associated with creating what was essentially propaganda against Pinochet’s dictatorship, Polloni credits arpilleras as “the voice of women” in Chile.