Arpilleras from Peru. Arpilleras or cuadros are exquisitely detailed hand-sewn three dimensional textile pictures that 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, arguably, 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." From "In Her Hands" by Paola Gianturco and Toby Tuttle, Penguin Press 2000.