IMAGE: Paz - Justicia - Libertad / Peace - Justice – Freedom. Chilean arpillera, Anonymous, 1970s. Photo Colin Peck. ©Conflict Textiles.
For Marjorie Agosín They met in hospitals, morgues and courtrooms: the women in search of their loved ones, knocking at the soundproofed perspex windows in wall after wall of lies. There were no disappeared. Only the unmarked graves in Santiago’s cemetery of those buried in the darkness of curfew. No names to name and nothing to tell. Stripped of their truths, like Philomena they chose to tell each story with their hands - rose early to put in an hour with scissors and thread before readying the house for another working day; met weekly in Churches, hands clammy with the cold sweat of conspiracy and fear, smuggling their stitched witness in closed umbrellas, tucked under coats, folded up sleeves. The vivid patch of grass in that garden scene is the sleeve of a daughter’s dress; the blue of a son’s favourite shirt gives innocence back to a sky like the one where the sun shone the last time she saw him. Their fingers craved knowledge of the missing – the texture of the clothes they wore, the brush of their hair, the way an infant needs an absent mother’s smell or the touch of her apron. The women sewed and met and sewed. They sewed and met and began to march, wearing the same seasonless coats since the moment of disappearance, waiting to sew the last scrap of each life firmly into place.
Arpilleras are a popular art form in many South American countries. They are three-dimensional appliqué collages. During the Pinochet dictatorship, many Chilean women created them to depict the stories of the disappeared victims of the regime.