Chilean Arpilleras, Social Reproduction and the Struggle Against Coloniality

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Santos Ocasio, Nathalia
Chilean arpilleras , political art , social reproduction , creative geographies , coloniality , feminist political economy
This dissertation explores the relationship between art, social reproduction, and resistance in Geography by interrogating the power of political art to challenge colonial/capitalist spatial dynamics through collective and public practice. To do this, I look at the tradition of Chilean arpilleras, a type of political textile created by victims of state violence and economic precarity during the Chilean dictatorship (1973-1990). The creation of arpilleras provided a space for collective healing and expression, as well as a source of income for families facing harsh economic circumstances. Arpilleras traveled around the world, where their sale and display helped to raise awareness about the violation of human rights perpetuated by Pinochet’s regime against dissenters. While Chile recovered its electoral democracy more than 30 years ago, arpilleras continue to denounce the enduring legacies of the social and economic policies inherited from the dictatorial period, and their current manifestation in the form of generational trauma, socioeconomic and gender-based inequities, and ecological crises. Attending to the contributions that arpilleras have made to art and resistance in Chile and beyond, this project explores how an artistic practice so closely embedded in individual expression, social reproduction, and the materiality of everyday life continues to carry forth powerful critiques of neoliberal economics and inspire collective struggles. This research was conducted during the social revolts of 2019-2020 and the ensuing efforts to replace the Pinochet-era Constitution. These events arguably energised a renewed interest in the use of political textiles as a tool of resistance anchored in spatial and collective struggles. The paradigmatic case of Chile’s incorporation into the global economy since the 1973 coup has inspired studies that centre on neoliberal restructuring and dictatorial violence. In this dissertation, however, I draw on feminist political economy and decoloniality/anticoloniality frameworks to highlight the discursive and symbolic ways in which power is enforced and resisted, including through artistic representation, art collection and curatorial practices. Beyond illustrating the struggles against coloniality related to Chilean arpilleras, in this dissertation I bring attention to how artistic practices unfold spatially and argue for a more critical engagement with the arts within Geography.
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