Monday, February 2, 2009

Chilean Arpilleras

Last week, in a Twitter exchange summarized with Jennifer Jones, I continued my lamentation of feeble skills of creativity. This exchange produced a twitter learning challenge (TLC?): I would give Jen a topic for her to explore...she would give me a topic as well...and we would then spend a week researching our topics, and provide a final "artifact". Today (February 2) was set as the deadline.

The rules of the TLC were pretty basic:
1. One week is allotted for learning about, and then presenting, the topic
2. If the person who is offered the challenge is familiar with the subject, they must reject it
3. Post final project publicly
4. The final product must also challenge the individual creating it, as the focus is not only on learning about the subject, but also in being creative in final expression.

I was given the topic of Chilean Arpilleras. It's about as far as I come from technology, so the subject itself was challenging and, as a human rights issue, well worth the time to explore.

My Process

Thinking in "new" or different ways is stressful. Even the first subject I asked Jen to consider reflected my gravitation toward the familiar. And, in planning my final product, I found I couldn't separate myself from technology. I decided to use a service that I had signed up for about a year ago, but had been sitting dormant: Comiqs. Sure, I could have done something far more creative - like actually try and stitch together an arpillera - but I decided progressive development of my creative skills was better served in stages :).

I was traveling the week of this project, which provided an additional factor that both hindered and enhanced my ability to explore arpilleras. As a positive, I was in London and had time to visit the Imperial War Museum. The exhibits on the holocaust and the suffering of both WWI and WWII were a depressing exploration of human rights violation. As a negative, I found it difficult to conceive how I would present my topic (especially when Jen was twittering about going out and buying material. Material?? What? Overachiever. She's going to show me up!! I was still thinking in digital terms).

How I got started...

The content of the project was only part of the overall experience. The final expression, as stated above, was at least as important.

Here's what I did to get started:
- As mentioned, I visited the imperial war museum
- I listened to a series of lectures on human rights and how history has slowly afforded rights to the members of society, up to the point where we today see human rights as universal and no one country can violate the rights of its citizens without the prospect of answering to those violations (more on that later as we get to Chile)
- I spent time searching images, stories, and examples online

My Experience

After spending time exploring various resources, I started "storyboarding", in the loosest way possible, the message I wanted to communicate via Comiqs. Here's an image of what I produced as the starting point for my comic strip:

My message:

I tried to communicate the duality of humanity: great savagery and great love.

In most civilizations, one group of people has dominated another. Reasons varied. Sometimes the motivation for domination and for seeing others as "less than human" was found in religion. Other times in skill colour. Or in gender. Or in societal positions. In each instance, an argument was made that provided merit (according to the views of some) that one group should be subject to the service of others. Even intellects as great as Aristotle thought slavery was natural.

Essentially, through out human history, well over half of the population was in slavery or in service to the minority. Think about that. If women, certain religious groups, certain races, etc. are treated as less than deserving of the full rights of an elite (voting, self-determination), then for most of human history, the vast majority has been in service to the minority.

Over a period of many centuries, various rights were granted due to organized social movements (granted is the wrong word - while governments granted rights, the term "granted" implies a giving that comes from the merit of the giver. Rights can hardly be granted in this sense as they are more accurately "restored" in oppressive regimes). During this period, various movements fought to end slavery, provide voting rights for women, ensure fair treatment of workers, and provide greater equity across the entire spectrum of humanity.

In 1948, after a series of brutal wars and the holocaust (and trailing well behind the declarations of Paine, Locke, and others), UN offered a universal declaration of human rights. This document asserted that the rights of humans were of such a nature that they transcended political borders. The shift in thought was monumental: the autonomy of a nation does not exceed the rights of humanity.

The principles of the document took decades to filter into various societies around the world. The United States, for example, signed on to the document in spite of significant inequality in how it treated certain members of its own society. Ideals work slowly into reality.

Chilean Arpilleras

Chilean Arpilleras are one illustration of how state autonomy and human rights struggle for a balanced relationship.

Augusto Pinochet
was a military commander who took over as president of Chile in 1974. For a period of 16 years he did what dictators have always done: he exerted his will over his populace. Rights were intermittent. Opponents were silenced through oppression and violence. While figures vary due to the secrecy of his government, Pinochet is accused of imprisoning and torturing approximately 30,000 people during his reign. Many of these people "disappeared". Families were often not aware of what had happened to those who had disappeared. In the growing oppressive climate - and a culture that lacked a history of strong social movements calling for rights and equality - public expressions of outrage were rare.

For mothers and wives (as recorded in literature I encountered...obviously all family members suffered, regardless of gender and role), the pain of not knowing the fate of a loved one was intensified by an inability to speak of their fear and angst. To safely give voice to their emotions and to serve as "soft" women's resistance, arpilleras were used as a medium of communication.

An arpillera, from my extensive history of never having made one, are "three-dimensional appliqué textiles of Latin America". Arpilleras served as a medium for expressing emotions, "smuggling" messages, and communicating the suffering in Chile to the outside world.

This short post glosses over much of what is fascinating about arpilleras - the stories they shared, the suffering they communicated, the social connectedness they provided to similar sufferers, the social contact and information they provided between prisoners and those outside, as well as the "soft movement" they spawned. In each of these instances, humanity is revealed at its finest: struggling toward hope in even the most oppressive environments.

And what happened to Pinochet? While visiting UK in 1998, he was arrested and charged with violating the rights of humanity. This incident focused international attention on the academic awareness of human rights as extending beyond the borders of a country. Beyond acknowledgment of the universal rights of humanity, the primary question under consideration was the capacity and resolve of the international community to bring idealism into practice.

Will the international community override the sovereignty of a country in an effort to support the rights of all humanity?

In this instance, somewhat surprisingly, the answer was yes. Pinochet was arrested, the trial was initiated...and then, due to medical reasons, he was released to Chile. Once in Chile, separate legal processes were initiated against him. None of these attempts yielded justice. Pinochet died without having faced his accusers or suffering judicial penalty for his crimes. However, as was stated (in a French newspaper, I believe, in an incident not related to Pinochet) "Fear has changed sides". Fear, long in service to keep the populace in oppression, now acquired the (still infant) capacity to hold leader's actions in check.

What of my creativity??

If you've made it this far, you are possibly asking, "where is your creative expression of this Chilean Arpilleras?". With the full humility of a student suggesting his homework was somehow misplaced, I appeal the the flakiness of Comiqs. On three separate attempts to share the above story in comic book format, I encountered "server is done" messages, difficulty in uploading images, frustrations of figuring out how to add text (quite different from the quote bubbles), cursing the inability to control font sizes, numbered lists, and finally losing my entire presentation when I waited too long to save a draft, I gave up. I decided to at least complete my homework on subject matter, while falling short on rendering it into a creative expression.

What would I have done differently?

As stated earlier, I should have attempted to create an arpillera.

Or, perhaps, seen if there were any exhibits on the subject nearby.

I waited to long to start creating my artifact.

I also should have focused on format of expression earlier.

I debated a video recording (nope, do that too often). A podcast (same thing - do that too often). What about a flickr slideshow (yeah, ok, that could work...but it's been down by others - not much creativity on my part). A playdough sculpture (no idea what that would look like, but it's tough to find playdough when traveling - at least I assume it is. I didn't actually look).

End result, I started out with high hopes and quickly gravitated to my comfort zone of thinking about content and abandoning expression. Which is the exact opposite of what I had wanted to do. I wanted to nurture my creative, not my logical side.


injenuity said...

I think we both accomplished what we set out to do. Or at least, we both tried. I think we discovered it's incredibly difficult to intentionally leave our comfort zones. We also discovered we care enough to try, and we seek deeper meaning in our learning processes. A week was definitely not long enough, but I think I would have given up if we had more time. I can see something like this working as a course assignment.

Anonymous said...

I don't know. I was at least hoping to see a richly colored CMAP. :). I actually used a comic program to make some of mine for #CCK08 but I had to purchase that so that put it out of George's consideration apparently.