or cuadros, exquisitely detailed hand-sewn three dimensional textile
pictures, illustrate the stories of the lives of the women of the
shantytowns (pueblo jovenes) of Lima, Peru and provide essential
income for their families.
"Arpilleras originated in
Chile, where women political prisoners who were held during the
Pinochet regime used them to camouflage notes sent to helpers
outside. Even the most suspicious guards did not think to check
the appliquéd pictures for messages, since sewing was seen
as inconsequential 'women's work'.
Today, arpilleras are created in
a number of cooperatives located in the dusty shantytowns of poor
and displaced families that ring the capital city of Lima."
Pueblos are collections of the poorest people with unemployment
near 80% and few sources of income. "Often the homes are
shacks composed of salvaged parts: old doors, panels of straw
matting, crating and corrugated metal. Water must be trucked in
to the shantytowns because there are no water or sewage systems.
Often, the small income from the sale of arpilleras provides the
only source of income for families displaced from their traditional
lives in the mountains. For others, this income allows the family
to educate their children, to provide a little better living standard.
For all, it engenders a sense of community among women who are
often from very different customs and cultures; it is also a way
to express their creativity.
The arpilleras tell the stories
of life: stories of planting and harvesting potatoes, tomatoes,
cabbages, grapes, corn; stories of spinning and weaving wool;
stories of country life, of tending llamas, sheep and goats; stories
of weddings and fiestas.
According to arpillera maker Rita
Serapion, "We all have a little art in our minds and in our
hands; we will leave something as a legacy for society. It will
stay behind us, in another place, in another time."
Her Hands" by Paola Gianturco and Toby Tuttle, Penguin