Friday, August 27, 2010
In 1973, General Pinochet led a coup against the democratically elected Marxist government in Chile. His army went after tens of thousands of people believed to be subversive and a threat to his policies. These mothers, fathers, sons and daughters were publicly executed in the national football stadium while others were imprisoned, tortured or simply disappeared. Families were torn apart and basic survival became so very difficult. The majority of women had husbands who had disappeared or were murdered and for the most part, were viewed as passive and unimportant by the government... but they were anything but! In 1975, Arpillera (pronounced as ar-pee-air-ah) workshops were started by the Vicariate of Solidarity which operated under the protection of the Catholic Church and were basically left alone by the Pinochet government. Women just doing women's work! Arpilleras are hand sewn and embroidered 3 dimensional tapestries. They became as Anna Burroughs called them, "Threads of Resistance, hand-stitched works of hope and protest." She went on to state, "The arpilleras were often made from clothing of the disappeared and the names of missing loved ones can be found on some pieces. Other sewn words and expressions were simple protests: Dόnde estás? Where are
you? The censorship that characterized Chile under Pinochet's dictatorship defeated written words that opposed his regime. The handwork of the arpilleristas testified for the oppressed and detailed the struggle for truth and justice despite the suppression of the military government.
Bold lines and colors relayed powerful messages depicted in folk-like scenes. An arpillera of a woman dancing signifies how women now performed the national dance La Cueca alone with the fate of their husbands unknown. Other images depict military violence, bloodshed and armed figures.
The arpilleras were made during clandestine meetings in dark basements or churches. The sewn testimonials of suffering were sold by the women so that their messages were released into the world and so they could feed their families."
Later, the arpilleras began to depict the women's dreams for peace and happiness. What began as a way to honor and remember loved ones now served as a catalyst to empower women socially, politically and economically. Workshops continue today throughout Chile and Peru. In Villa El Salvador, I experienced and was humbled by the love and dedication of women who are determined to provide a better life for their children through the sale of their exquisite arpilleras. In the book, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn state that "Masculinity expresses the idea that there are things worth dying for while femininity expresses the idea that there are things worth living for." These women are dedicating their lives to things worth living for - health care, nutrition and education for their families.
In the next blog, I will make the introductions!
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Villa El Salvador is a twenty minute drive outside of Lima. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and yet most of the homes have no access to running water and thus, there is no sewage system. This area began as an "invasion"...during the night, hundreds of people move into an area and set up homes made of straw in order to claim the land. Once the settlement becomes more stable, wood is then used for the housing later followed by tin, bricks and concrete for more permanence. I was fortunate enough to photograph the grass root efforts and leadership of those trying to establish a medical center and provide nutritional/educational programs for the people. Community and stability are surely being birthed into existence through the commitment of very dedicated people.
The following is an interview with Father Simon, a priest with the Missionary Society of St. James, headquartered in Boston. Simon's sincerity, kindness and attention to welcoming another was so evident from our first meeting. Before I can show the creative work of the people, it is important to gain an awareness and a sense of place.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Faces tell a story. Each unique. Each so expressive with the etchings of life's journey. I am so drawn to engage with the people and then be able to photograph with little distance between us. I was in the back seat of our "classic" red volkswagen when I saw this wonderful woman walking down the street with her colorful bag slung over her humped shoulders. My friends are absolutely wonderful and used to my asking to stop the car in an instant so all 6ft. of me jumped out of the back of the car (not an easy task) and went up to this woman. What was translated to her was that I thought she was beautiful and would like to photograph her. She was so kind and we shared smiles in that moment of time.
The following Sunday, I was driving to photograph a town Mass. I saw this woman out of the corner of my eye walking with her cane all by herself but this time we were late and could not stop. Any one who loves to photograph knows exactly that feeling of missing THE moment and missing THE picture. It hurts! As luck would have it, I was in the church setting up and saw this woman coming up to the front row in the church. She had walked almost a mile to get there! I saw determination, dignity and a quiet but powerful presence in this woman. This time I didn't miss the opportunity to photograph her and bring a bit of her back home with me.
Monday, August 16, 2010
My laptop has very little memory left. 5,000 images of Peru and 9 hours of video are running through it. My heart is in the same state, filled to capacity with memories of people who are no longer strangers, sounds with such exuberance and inflections, new foods and new places explored. A far off land that now feels so very close.
There was one statement and one question which seemed to be on everyone's mind when they met me. The question was, "Have you seen Machu Picchu yet?" I'ver heard it is awe inspiring and mystical. A true wonder of the world. A site not to be missed but I have to say, I did miss it and it was planned that way! Machu Picchu is for another time. This trip was about being with amazing and gifted people.
Roxana and Jose, a young couple who are just starting out with the hopes and dreams of fullness and a promising future. I loved photographing their looks, the moments they reached out to touch each other in both gentleness and laughter.
Hermenegildo and Irma, a couple, who renewed their vows after 50 years of marriage. They were truly celebrating this fullness which flows from the day in and day out little things. On the morning of the celebration, I walked through the gate to find Hermenegildo cutting the flowers he had grown and then arranging them into the bouquet Irma would hold throughout the day... he was so tender and so in the moment - I was totally taken by this man and his wife! The entire family also know how to throw a great party!
The statement repeated to me was, "You better put your camera away and not keep it out." At first I was thrown into fear thinking that Peru must be far worse with a high rate of robbery than many other countries I walked through comfortably with my camera. That perception quickly changed and I came to realize that the Peruvian people were just very diligent in taking care of me and ensuring that my stay would be both happy and healthy. They were constantly looking out for me and enfolding me. "La Familia" has now become "Mi Familia" and I am so very grateful! The people are the true wonders of the world! Si! Si! Si!