The Chilean Arpilleras refer to and critique

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memorial quilt (figure 1) created in response to the ongoing tragedy of
Aids and the Chilean Arpilleras (fig 2) created to resist the Pinochet
dictatorship both attempt to memorialise whilst at the same time prompting and
creating a political outcome. Challenging the ideas of traditional Monuments through
their use of materiality, they open up the gallery critiquing the art market
gallery paradigm. In this essay I will compare the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial
Quilt and Chilean Arpilleras in 3 primary ways that is; the Idea of the
memorial as a monument and traditional creations of monuments, the politics
emerging from the materiality of these projects, and the idea of
social/political practice as artwork. Both the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial
Quilt and the Chilean Arpilleras refer to and critique the traditional ideas of
the monument and the monument as memorialisation. Instead of traditionally
monumentalising death they attempt to create new ways of memorialisation with
different responses reflective of socio-political/economic context.


The tradition of the
monument as memorial

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt responds to what is
termed in ‘Art Since 1900’1
as a “politics of representation…in which…identities and positions were treated
as constructed representations to be interrogated on formal as well as
ideological levels”2.
The idea of the NAMES Project AIDS
Memorial Quilt as a questioning of ideological paradigm is furthered by
Marita Sturken in Tangled Memories; the
Vietnam War the AIDS epidemic and the Politics of Remembering; “the Quilt
thus seems as a sounding board for issues about AIDS”3.

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 The Quilt acts “not only…
to remember the dead but about how to effectively end the dying”4
an act which monumentalises the problems at hand allowing the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt to
virally respond to the AIDS epidemic. The organic nature of the NAMES Project
AIDS Memorial Quilt further differs from the figurative monuments of the past
by not being formally representative of a singular death. As well as further
differing from abstract monuments in individualising intrinsic meaning.
Compared with Maya Lin’s abstract Vietnam Veterans memorial (fig3), we can see
how the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt doesn’t
require the laying of flowers or belongings. This is because unlike the
Veterans Memorial the meaning is intrinsic with the entire quilt representing
the collection of individual responses to death. Each panel like flowers
represents an individual response to the tragedy of AIDS. 

 The political
subtlety inherent in the subjective meaning within the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt was however, criticised due to a lack of presumed
lack of anger within the work. The monument is criticised as allowing “the
emotional catharsis of mourning to supplant activism aimed at preventing and
treating AIDS”5.
However looking at this production “by quilting bees in little communities”
from the perspective of Colectivo Situaciones essay Politicising sadness we can see a politicisation of mourning within
the Quilt; preventing the producers of the quilt from “being swept along with
the current or simply conquered”6
through the active process of creation inherent within the quilts production.  Criticism of the Quilt often ignores this
more intersectional and community building aspects inherent within the production
of the quilt that creates a community to perpetuate protest.

Furthermore criticism of the Quilt for its lack of “collective
Direct Action” can be seen as a critique of the “politics of representation”
and therefore is itself uncritical of the sophistication inherent in the quilts
questioning of stereotype.  The
problematic element becomes clarified further when placed in the context of
Robert Smithson’s reply to The Artist and
Politics: A symposium with, a call for uncritical direct action resulting
in “a kind of centrifugal force that throws the blood of Atrocities onto those
working for peace”7.

Comparing the quilts subtlety of politics to the Arpilleras
we are confronted by their far more directly political meanings and figurative
representations, as such we can see them in the context of a “representation of
However far from being uncritical direct action9
the intimate nature of the Arpilleras (this is true of the quilt too) connect
the political to the personal, the personal to the human and the human to the
universal. In this way we can see the Arpilleras not only as the documentation
of specific tragedies that happened to specific people at a specific time but
rather in the context of the idea of tragedy. Thus Arpilleras not only function
to raise awareness of the Pinochet’s oppression but further to “permeate the
social construction of reality and create a human reality”10.
This human aspect of the Arpilleras furthers their protest function, as their
message is human people unacquainted with the Pinochet regime can thus
emotionally conceive of the brutality of the dictatorship.

Regarding the Arpilleras as a social practices we can further
this claim of the personal/political from representation to practice. With the
artistic production of the Arpilleras and the communities formed as a result of
this realising a prototype for a different type of production (and society)
based in “human values”11.  The creation of these communities further
helps to “de-alienate a society rendered numb and fragmented by the repressive
instrumentality of Capitalism”12
and the market held especially dear by Pinochet. In this the Arpilleras provide
a completely radical departure from traditional monuments; their production
bringing forward a new socio-political framework, as well as making the
mourning process politically productive.



Both the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and the
Arpilleras share their use of materiality, using sewing and cloth a contrast
from traditional monuments which are constructed from stone (fig 4) or metals
(fig 3). The use of cloth gives the monuments a softness that contrasts with
the perception of a monument or memorial. This softness is perpetuated through
a gendered reading of the use of cloth. Christopher Reed in
Art and Homosexuality sees the
interaction of the (masculine anger) from aids and the feminine (sewing) “as a
Blurring of gender boundaries”13.

 Reading the femininity of sewing further we
can see the decorative and female aspects of the quilt panels in the context of
Valerie Jandon and Joyce Kosloff’s re-evaluation of the artistic value of “decoration,
carpets, weaving, and patterns”. The NAMES AIDS memorial quilt can therefore be seen as a postmodernist
critique (through its use of decoration) of modernisms distain of Low art and
folk art14.

 This criticism is
further accentuated by the dialogue the NAMES
AIDS memorial quilt has with different traditions in art. The installation
of the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt
within the context of the Washington Mall placed it into further dialogue with
the traditional monument, the softness of the quilt contrasting with the
obvious hardness of the buildings and sculptures. An act which replicates the
contrasts of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Venus
of the rags (fig 5) placing the traditions of high and low art in
opposition as well as the different textures of the materials used.

Furthermore looking at the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt in the formal context of work such as
Durer’s Triumphal Arch (fig 6) we see the aids memorial quilt as a critique of
hierarchy. As a traditional monument Durer’s Triumphal Arch celebrates the “The emperor’s special and
outstanding charter traits and abilities” as an individual and preserves the
“image of the virtuous ruler”15.
This contrasts with the NAMES AIDS
memorial quilt which celebrates the individual lives of the mass of people
who died with AIDS. We can see these two monuments as monuments to two separate
historiographical philosophies; Durer representing Liberal historiography and
the remembering of specific (important) individuals whilst the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt represents the
Marxist tradition of historiography representing the importance of the
individual lives of the masses. This confrontation of philosophies is mirrored
in materiality, seen directly in the laying of the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt at the Washington Mall; the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt grounded and
equal whilst the ‘important’ figures from history look down upon it. 

 This conflict of
philosophies functions within the context of Douglass Crimps Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism; reversing the actions of media such as
“PBS’s McNeill/Lehrer” “as noting the
AIDS-related deaths of a number of famous artists”16.
The reversal of this trend is made more explicit by the equalisation of space
(and emphasis) on the quilt away from aesthetic and Liberal hierarchies of
value (each panel having the same amount of space on the same level). 

The NAMES AIDS memorial
quilt however not only criticises and contrasts the traditions of the
western cannon but also appropriates some of the devices of 20th
century art and the artistic cannon beyond. We can see this appropriation in
the context of giving credence to the AIDS activist art. To quote Felix
Gonzales Torres “We should not be afraid of using formal references since they represent
authority and history. Why not take them”17.
  The gridded layout of the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt, plays upon
the gridded formulations of Abstraction and Minimalism with the order of each
grid being broken up by the disorder or individual subjectivity within each
square. Although opposite and contrasting to Durer’s Triumphal Arch in philosophy the quilt appropriates the idea of a
movable monument which is reproducible and accessible (access to the monument

The re-contextualisation of Arpilleras as work of art also
replicates this postmodernist critique of high art and is further emphasised by
the size of the Arpilleras. In contrast to the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt the Arpilleras don’t attempt to compete
with the scale and power of the authoritarian monument instead their size and
scale intensify the intimate voices of the Chilean women. The scale and number
of arpilleras emphasises the subjective, these works do not seek to be a single
story or history of Pinochet’s Chile but rather a personal, intimate story.
Looking at Arpilleras as Elizabeth Doonan does in her essay Textiles of Change: How Arpilleras can
Expand Traditional Definitions of Records we can see Arpilleras as a
challenge to the idea of the record. This challenge sits within the context of
postmodernist critique of the photograph as an objective account of truth. Art Since 1900 describes postmodernist
photo-based artists as regarding “the photograph less as a physical trace or
indexical imprint of reality than a coded construction that produces the
“effects of the real”18
Arpilleras then appear as alternative records of events with Doonan describing
Arpilleras in terms of “non-traditional forms” of  archive material19.
The Arpilleras, (like the NAMES AIDS
memorial quilt) instead of espousing a singular story of the truth or
history, use multiple ‘subjective’ accounts of events to record a greater
subjective truth.

As well as displaying ‘subjective’
accounts of events they respond to their function as a “representation of
politics” with formal elements rejecting the idea of objective truth. In her
essay Unforgotten to the unforgettable:
How Arpilleras contributed to Chilean history informing everyday occupations
and social change Susan Traini describes an Arpillera as a ‘mirage’ due to
the contradiction between the “Beautiful scenery”, and the “story of brutality
and occupational injustices”20.
This contradiction between the decorative materiality of the Arpilleras and
their function in communicating atrocities is highlighted by the use of the
frame; in Roberta Bacic’s text Arpilleras
in Contested Spaces she describes
the frame of the Arpilleras as “crocheted red wool to resemble a frame, to let
us know this is a picture to hang in a room, to live with”. I wish to provide
an alternative reasoning for the frame to run alongside Bacic’s; the use of the
frame to highlight the “mirage like” qualities of the Arpilleras with the frame
contradicting the “Albertian window”21
within it.

The frame contains the image
keeping the eye within its borders however the shared materiality of the appliqued
surface and the frame seeks to create an awareness of the flatness of the
image. This flatness contradicts the images depth referencing the contrast of
the “Beautiful scenery” and “occupational injustices”; further the flatness
makes reference to the problems of the image as document highlighted by
postmodernist photography. From this we understand that the representation is
not the real event but a representation of a ‘real event’; “the representation
of politics”.


Social, economic and political practice

The broadening of art and the site
of art is something that both the NAMES
AIDS memorial quilt and the Chilean Arpilleras partake in; the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt working to
create an artwork outside of the gallery and the Arpilleras helping to create a
“solidarity art system”22.
In doing this both projects function to remove the hierarchical associations of
the gallery and the division between folk art, fine art and craft.

 In the context of postmodernism art the social
elements of the work can be deemed to be art in itself placing the emphasis
here we can further understand the politics of these participatory pieces. The
performative process of the creation of the quilt/Arpilleras becoming the
artwork’s final form. This movement of the site of artwork away from a
“literal, physical understanding of the site to a more abstract, discursive
enables us to see these works as performative beyond their physical presence
and into a social space.

The construction of the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt and the
community that was produced by this process can be seen in the context of the
Reagan Administrations lack of funding and information for social projects
countering the spread of AIDS. Therefore the starting point for the development
of the communities formed around the AIDS epidemic and Arpilleras was
Neo-liberalism and US hegemony. We can therefore see the creation of
communities were created as a result of the absences provided from lack of
government within neo-liberalism. The communities created through the
construction and maintenance of the NAMES
AIDS memorial quilt and Arpilleras can
thus be seen as the physical or social outcome of the projects.

In her Book Art Against Dictatorship Making and Exporting Arpilleras under Pinochet
Jaqueline Adams outlines Solidarity Art and Resistance Art as a way of
opposing dictatorship through art. Taking this argument of resistance through
community further these projects can be seen as prototypes of how to create
societies in a different way. Providing not just resistance against
dictatorship but the formation of an entirely new system. Adams states “art
making groups bring people out of isolation”24
in this way it is directly opposed to the alienating “repressive
instrumentality of Capitalism” something that extends beyond dictatorship. 


In his book Small is Beautiful E.F Schumacher outlines an alternative to the
Market, Economy, State Socialism and Neo-Liberal Capital; he states “In the
absence of State Nationalised social security. Modes of Common Ownership are
developed”. Adams comments on the Arpilleras reflect this statement; “In
response to exacerbated poverty they tried to earn some money… by joining
Arpillera groups…Food producing groups…income earning groups”. These bottom up
responses outline a different conception of society based upon “human reality”
rather than corporate wealth or state power.

On the other hand we must be
careful as Crimp states in regards to AIDS, “healthcare…is the responsibility
and purpose of government”. This statement presented by crimp as an Axiom
however looking at it from the perspective of the ending of the AIDS epidemic
it makes sense. On the other hand taking the Syndicalist perspective of Emile
Pouget in Direct Action democracy can
be viewed as the “Latest incarnation of authority”. I argue that in this context
of the Arpilleras and quilt this doesn’t mean that the communities created should
take over the role of the state but merely that they offer “common ownership”
as an alternative to both state power and corporate greed in “a struggle
against absentee authority”25.
Seeing this further the intersectional systems created through the production of
the NAMES AIDS memorial quilt, the
apollineras and other participatory community building projects provide the basis
for what Howard Zinn describes as “a new culture of sharing, of respect a new
joy in the collaboration of people to help themselves and one another” and the
revolt he regards as “the coming revolt of the guards”26.

In conclusion we can see the similarities
and differences of the NAMES AIDS
memorial quilt and arpilleras in 3 different areas; the different conceptual
response to the idea of the monument and memorialisation and the similar response
in physical materiality and social materiality. The NAMES AIDS memorial quilt and apollineras both distance themselves
from the conception of the monument, criticising the society of the cult of the
individual that traditional monuments and memorials stand for. In its place
through physical and social materiality the AIDS quilt and arpilleras suggest
the conception of a different society based upon “human values” and “collaboration”.
A society based upon the Marxist tradition of historiography that is, as valuing
deaths of the many as individual’s on the same level as the deaths of those
deemed more important. From their social fabric these monuments also offer us
the conception of a society based in these human values.  













Art and Homosexuality 215







The social Turn: collaboration and discontents




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of Change: How Arpilleras can Expand Traditional Definitions of Records  2016

Doolan, Elizabeth


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Categories: Artists


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