Friday, 1 December 2023

Textile Details

'Cinco sitios de desaparición colectiva / Five sites of collective disappearance', by Irma Müller. (Photo: Martin Melaugh)
'Cinco sitios de desaparición colectiva / Five sites of collective disappearance', by Irma Müller. (Photo: Martin Melaugh)


Title of Textile:Cinco sitios de desaparición colectiva / Five sites of collective disappearance
Maker: Irma Müller
Country of Origin: Chile
Year Produced: 1988
Size (cm): 65cm (w) x 61cm (h) (inclusive of backing)
Materials: Scraps of material sewn onto burlap
Type of Textile: Arpillera

In this arpillera we are confronted with five black, hooded figures representing five areas in Chile from North to South, synonymous with enforced disappearances, detention, execution and torture during the Pinochet era: Calama, Pisagua, Tocopilla, Colina and Chihuio. Gazing outward at us are four resolute women. They symbolise all the Chilean women who persisted – at great risk to themselves – in going to the many detention centres seeking news of their disappeared loved ones and demanding truth and justice.

Irma was one such woman. When her filmmaker son Jorge Muller Silva and his fiancée Carmen Bueno Cifuentes were detained on 29th November 1974, her life changed utterly. “The search for [him] marked out a path for me that I never thought I would take”. This path led her to seek support from and become actively involved in Vicaría de la Solidaridad and the Association of Families of the Detained – Disappeared. For Irma, making arpilleras was “a way of denouncing the problems by means of needlework…I have been doing this almost from the moment of [his] disappearance”. (Agosín, M) “Tapestries of hope, threads of love: The Arpillera movement in Chile” (second edition)

In March 2020, almost 30 years after Irma’s death in 1991, a Chilean court convicted 31 former agents for their role in the disappearances of Carmen and Jorge during the security forces’ Operación Colombo in 1975, in which they forcibly disappeared 119 political prisoners. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2021, Chile Events of 2020, Confronting past abuses

This arpillera, like its maker Irma, has travelled an unusual path. Laura Taylor McNeill bought it in 1989 when she and her friend Lewellyn Bell travelled from the USA to Chile in solidarity with those resisting the Pinochet dictatorship. Years later, still interested in arpilleras, Laura attended a talk given by Roberta Bacic at the exhibition Arpilleras: Embajadoras para el Bicentenario / Quilts/Arpilleras: Ambassadors for the Bicentennial (New York, 2010). Before her death Laura instructed Lewellyn to donate this piece to a textile collection. Honouring her wishes, Lewellyn passed it on to Gayla Jamison, a long standing friend. Gayla, in turn, transported it to Roberta. (Letter from Irma Müller to Gayla Jamison, 25 Sept. 1989 relating to this arpillera and ¿Dónde están los desaparecidos? / Where are the "disappeared"?).

Through various solidarity networks this arpillera has made its way to Conflict Textiles collection. Here it will continue to bear witness to the atrocities of the Pinochet era; the 1,192 people forcibly disappeared, the 2,995 people executed and the 38,254 victims of political imprisonment and torture. Memoria Viva - Proyecto Internacional de Derechos Humanos. A new state search initiative, announced in 2023, considers 1,469 of those killed or disappeared by the dictatorship to be still missing. Observatorio de Justicia Transicional, Universidad Diego Portales, Chile (2023)

Owner: Conflict Textiles collection
Location: Roberta Bacic, Northern Ireland
Original / Replica: Original
Photographer: Martin Melaugh
Provenance: Donation from Lewellyn Bell via Gayla Jamison, USA. Received in March 2022.

Textile exhibited at: Conflict Textiles collection: Magee Campus Library, Ulster University, 28/07/2022 - 8/02/2023

Textile Detail Image(s)

  letter from Irma Müller to Gayla Jamison, 25 Sept. 1989 re arpilleras: