Cecilia Hurtado:“Arpillera made a great transformation in me”

Selasa, 18 April 2006

Cecilia Hurtado was invited by Urban Poor Linkage (UPLINK) to train Acehnese women in making arpillera, patchworks which is well known by the world for being a tools of trauma healing, of women empowerment and of political resistance under Augusto Pinochet authoritarian rule. During her last days in Indonesia, Cecilia who prefers to describe herself as an artist was very pleased to share about her own personal experience in arpillera groups with KOMPOR-LAFADL. Following is KOMPOR-LAFADL’s interview with Cecilia, a mother of two sons from Quilpué City, Chile.

KOMPOR-LAFADL (K): When did you join arpillera group and what was your reason of joining the group?Cecilia (C ): In 1985, I divorced from my husband. I left my house and I went to my mother's in Santiago. At the same time, there was a change of economic and political orientation, from paternalistic economic system to a Neoliberal economic system. It produced economic difficulties for many people; rate of unemployment was very high. Under such conditions, I needed to work and money to raise my two children. In Santiago, I looked for women solidarity groups because through the groups we could earn some money from making handicrafts. Here, Catholic churches played important role. Through these churches, the catholic germans bought the handicrafts.

K : It sounds that women like you were under big pressures during that time?C: Yes. Their husbands did not work and earn money for the family. Many male members of Chilean families were put in jails by (authoritarian) government. Many of them were taken away, and they were missing (up to now). Women were alone in bringing up their children. Economic difficulties left the husbands unemployed, and it was a big pressure for them. Such a strong pressure drove husbands to commit domestic violence against their wives. And I saw such similarity also in Aceh that women need works to earn money for the family. This principal similarity is very important, especially when they have children.

K: At first it was economic motivation that brought you to arpillera group. But now you are in Indonesia, sharing your experience to other women, and it doesn’t look as economic one. Do you find something great in arpillera group that shifted you from economic motivation to non-economic one?C: Yes, the group made a great transformation in me. The group led me to important and great decisions to come back to my house, demand my rights, and confront the problems with my husband. Before I joined the group, I felt that I am not someone important. I left my house, while in fact the law says that the house belongs to the wife because it is her that mostly brings up the children. At that time I had no courage to confront it. Though I only stayed 2 months to learn arpillera in the group, but I had a lot. In the group, I learned that I am very important to my children that I need to fight for my children’s rights (Cecilia loves her children very much. On her curriculum vitae shown to KOMPOR-LAFADL, she writes down the names of her two sons and the years they were born. “I put them on it because they are the most important in my life,” she says).

K: What did the group actually do to you and other members? What was its function that led you to personal transformation?C: The group’s contribution could not be seen with bare eyes. At least there are two possibilities that could explain that. Firstly, the group provides a forum for women to see and talk to each other. The group accommodated the need to be together. Sometimes the problem woman faced is psychological. They need to tell others about their conditions. Secondly, sewing, brewing and other techniques of arpillera give something peaceful to women. Handicraft, especially arpillera, is a good technique to get peace, to relax. And being relaxed, we could think carefully what we would like to do. Personally, arpillera is very important for me. By learning arpillera, my sense of art is coming back. It drove me to go to art schools (a night before this interview, Cecilia told KOMPOR-LAFADL that, like many other Chilean parents, her parents had not wanted their children become artists. They put their children to schools that could bring them to be professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, etc, to earn much money. Cecilia herself had been studying laws, but she then moved to art schools).

K: Arpillera groups emerged when there were no channels of democracy under authoritarian rule. But nowadays, the situation is very different. There is more or less some democratic change in Chile that provides space for the people to speak up complains, criticism, or grievances. Indonesia also has similar democratic changes. In such case, how significant will arpillera group still be for women?C: Situation is surely changing. But, there is something unchanged, which is the need to work together, to talk to each other. During Pinochet, religion played important role as sites of meeting. For women, sites of meeting or to say something are still very important. Maybe the church is now no longer needed, but sites of meeting are still needed. Besides, by working together we could have more. There are more facilities to group than to individuals. For example, if we want to have exhibitions, the cost will be very much cheaper if we work and hold it together with others.

K: In your opinion, what should the Indonesian women groups do so they can be more empowered?C: They need to be more organized. Being alone is difficult to get something, or to get their rights fulfilled. Organization is a medium of communication. And in this case, arpillera is a good medium of communication.

K: What do you think about UPLINK’s works here?

C: Uplink’s movement is very serious project. I think the important role that UPLINK plays is in giving the people the feeling of secure. Feeling protected is very important. It is similar with the role that the churches played during Pinochet. They made people feel protected.

Personal Information of Cecilia Hurtado

Full name: Maria Cecilia Hurtado NeiraDate of Birth: December 6, 1955Children: Mauricio (born in 1982) and Rodrigo Cifuentes Hurtado (born in 1984)Address: E. Guajardo 049, Quilpué CityMobile phone: (09) 8130213Email address: ma.ceciliahurtado@hotmail.comArt specialty: drawing and anatomy drawingLatest art education: Spanish and Flamengo Dance Academy of “Fernando Sebastian” in Viña del Mar (2002) Painting Department at Art School of Viña del Mar (completed in 1997).Professional art works: she already held many exhibitions, both individually and in groups, of her paintings, drawings and patchworks in several cities in Chile and Ecuador. Her art works were also published in newspapers and magazines in both countries.

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