Art against Dictatorship :
Producing and Exporting Arpilleras under Pinochet
Jacqueline Adams is a senior researcher and visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley Institute for the Study of Societal Issues. As an award- winning sociologist, her research explores life under dictatorship as expressed through the creation of artistic works in defence of human rights. Adams applies a broad range of qualitative methods to her research, including an extensive collection of first-hand accounts recorded during oral history interviews. These personal experiences are skillfully interpreted within a broader context of economic survival strategies, migration, and informal educational settings available to inhabitants of severely deprived communities.
Many of her qualitative studies have appeared in scholarly journals, including: Sociological Quarterly, The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Qualitative Sociology, Sociological Perspectives, Sociological Forum, Sociological Inquiry, and the Journal of Comparative Family Studies. Amongst these publications, Jacqueline has served as Associate Editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography and on the editorial board of Sociological Perspectives. Her article "When Art Loses Its Sting: The Evolution of Protest Art in Authoritarian Contexts" received the Award for Distinguished Contribution to Sociological Perspectives by the Pacific Sociological Association.
Surviving Dictatorship: A Work of Visual Sociology is a scholarly study of life in Chile under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet during the 1970s and 1980s. This period in Chile was noted for sustained political and economic repression of entire sections of the population that had supported the previous elected government of Salvador Allende, which was considered to be too left-leaning. The resulting impoverishment of large swaths of the population saw a growth in people residing in shantytowns around the capital city and elsewhere in the country, where much of the social and economic burden was subsequently taken up by the women living there.
While most studies of this period examine how the crack down affected politicians, activists, writers, artists, musicians, and anyone deemed to have supported the previous government, Jacqueline Adams considers Chilean society from the perspective of working-class women, whose roles dramatically changed from being almost exclusively domestic to becoming the primary family breadwinners as a result of widespread unemployment, arrests, and disappearances.
Adams communicates the conditions experienced by those living under this authoritarian regime through an extensive collection of visual artefacts, including photographs, art, posters, flyers, and bulletins. Combined with first-hand interviews and archival research, Surviving Dictatorship provides a thorough portrayal of a large segment of the population who were coping with targeted repression and impoverishment, and how some of the least powerful members of society were able to mount numerous forms of resistance through community building and self-determination. The result is a ground-breaking academic text that educates readers in effective qualitative research methods as well as the sociology of extended poverty, repression, and resistance in an authoritarian society.
One of the most powerful means of resistance to the Pinochet regime in Chile took the form of arpilleras, brightly coloured cloth material stitched into patchwork designs that depicted pictorial scenes of life within the shantytowns. Created in informal workshops by woman of the shantytowns, arpilleras were smuggled out of Chile by human rights groups to highlight the plight of these women and to provide some subsistence income to their community. The workshops were tacitly and overtly supported by Catholic Church groups, most notably the Vicariate of Solidarity, a movement guided by liberation theology that sought to provide assistance to those in need.
Art Against Dictatorship: Making and Exporting Arpilleras Under Pinochet explores the use of this type of dissident art under a dictatorship. In this extended case study, Jacqueline Adams draws upon the visual legacy of this art form, bringing together in-depth archival research with personal interviews and observations of many of the direct participants in arpilleras workshops. Adams traces the origin of the arpilleras as an art form, and the emergence of workshops where groups of women met two to three times a week to create the colourful works of art.
While following the arpilleras' trail from workshops to the human rights organizations that smuggled them out of Chile, to sellers and buyers in the outside world, Art Against Dictatorship also takes readers on a journey of solidarity with those suffering under political repression and economic injustice in their daily lives. Arpilleras produced during the Pinochet regime in Chile did achieve the goal of creating international outrage that eventually led to a return to democratic government. They also empowered the women who created them to give voice to their own plight and to their sons, fathers, siblings and husbands whose voices were forever silenced.