Chilean Arpilleras: The Power of Anonymity

Arpilleras, produced in Chile between 1974-1989, are artworks made from appliqué or embroidery on a background of sackcloth that tell stories about one of the darkest times in Chilean history;  the military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1990. The regime’s political policies led to economic inequality, a crisis of healthcare, and mass torture and executions for those who opposed the government.

This truth telling drove the arpillera makers, two groups of women, to create. On one hand they were mothers and grandmothers of the people seized by the secret police and rarely heard of again. The church office was the only place which offered help in their  search for information, and there they met others in the same situation, gradually forming into a protest group, the Families of the Disappeared. The second group of women were shanty town dwellers whose families’ faced starvation due to massive unemployment. The church assisted them in setting up laundries, soup kitchens, and…art workshops. These arpilleristas were transformed into artist activists finding relief and comfort from working together, a kind of art therapy. And the church, in the middle, between despair and resistance, facilitated this healing through creativity. 

What strikes me about these pieces is that the work is anonymous. No one takes credit, it’s too dangerous to do so. Usually the women in the group make one patchwork each week. The themes are decided by discussion and the finished pieces are then looked over and analyzed to confirm they are well made and really “say something.”  Since the Chilean government considered them a threat and forbade them to be shown or sold in the country, the earliest arpilleras were smuggled out in diplomatic pouches. The meaning of each arpillera, sometimes containing hidden messages, was important to them for this reason and remaining nameless gave their message power. The strength of their collective voice depended on it.

These patchwork pieces which have seemingly innocent, child-like qualities – colorful, playful – harnessed the power of anonymity in the collective, tapped into the practical role of the church as a community ally, and were a tool of resistance and healing against government oppression. During these uncertain times this kind of nameless, collective art making offers us the same power and hope. 

Create Scripture-adorned Infinity Scarves at Abounding Grace Ministries this Wednesday!

NELLIE'S AIR FEBRUARY 21 EVENT FLYER 2

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck… Proverbs 3:3.

As I mentioned earlier, I am so honored and excited to be working with Abounding Grace Ministries (NYC) as their Artist-in-Residence. Our first art activity will take place February 21, 6:30 to 8:30. I hope you can make it!

In the spirit of Lent, we will be adorning infinity scarves with scripture, inspirational quotes, and song lyrics. Space and materials are limited so, if you are interested in participating,  please comment below.

my signature2

Your Gift Will make Room for You: 2018 Artist in Residence at Abounding Grace Ministries

YOUR GIFT WILL MAKE ROOM FOR YOU

I am happy to announce that I am the 2018 Artist in Residence at Abounding Grace Ministries, a church in the Lower East Side pastored by my good friend, Louis Carlo.

I am super excited and grateful for the opportunity to continue exploring the intersection between faith and art, and also share my various narratives; artist, special needs mom, art historian, museum/art educator, entrepreneur, author, etc.

As I prepared for my introduction a month ago, I realized that through the various stages in my life, God consistently has made room for my art gift. I hope you know He can do it for you too!