CW: Domestic violence
My practice-based PhD explored forms of presentation of my hand-embroidered artworks and investigated methods of communicating complex socio-political issues, such as the high levels of violence against women in Chile and Latin America, with a range of audiences, to contest the prevalent patriarchal system in the region.
This research was motivated by my personal experiences as a recipient of sexist abuse in and outside academia. As a practitioner, my purpose was to leave the safe space of the art galleries, to create a closer connection with diverse audiences, opening up spaces for direct and active communication.
To inform my practice, it was necessary to undertake fieldwork in Chile on three occasions. In the first one, I had access to domestic violence cases in two different Courthouses in the city of Quilpué. For the second phase of fieldwork, I installed one of my artworks in a vacant lot of land, with the purpose to directly associate my works with a potentially dangerous place for women in Chile. For my last phase of fieldwork, I directly communicated with a range of Chilean audiences. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, participants were reached through a video-presentation of the artworks and a subsequent online survey. For this last fieldwork, I used the emerging method of participatory textile research (Shercliff & Holroyd, 2020) as a vehicle to actively reach Chilean participants who were key in the creative part of one of my unfinished artworks (the blue apron).
Throughout my doctoral research, I produced ‘La trato como reina (Partes 1-3) [I treat her like a queen (Parts 1-3)]’, a series of glass bead embroideries of objects inspired by the theme of violence against women in Chile. Real domestic violence cases informed these artworks, and they result from my reflections on the deep social and gender inequalities and my analysis of the crystallisation of the strong patriarchal system within Chilean institutions. These embroideries were sewn to the backs of three (Chilean) school aprons and are accompanied by a series of texts that were taken from a range of sources, including a popular Chilean folk song, the start message on the Spanish version of Facebook ‘¿Qué estás pensando [What are you thinking?]’, an upside-down text (illegible), the fragment of a text that mixes fiction and reality that I wrote in 2013 when I was the recipient of sexist abuse in academia and, finally, the suggestions made by collaborators in response to my research.
For the series ‘La trato como reina’, I selected a background fabric that offered a close connection with the subject addressed – the high levels of violence against women in Chile – and also a cultural significance particular to Chile (although not restricted to) that could enhance the message intended to suggest through the embroidered images and texts.
In Chile, pink gingham fabric is commonly used to make pre-school girl’s aprons. Therefore, this particular fabric is associated with the notion of young girls who are beginning their integration into the Chilean educational system. Additionally, blue gingham fabric is commonly used for schoolgirls’ aprons, whereas the colour for schoolboys’ aprons is light brown.
Because I wanted to experiment with new ways to present my artworks, aiming to connect more closely with my audience, I decided to sew my embroidered pieces into three school aprons, that can potentially be worn. These garments address bodies of people, young people, school children and adolescents, who are part of the most vulnerable subjects when it comes to the damage that can be caused by gender-based violence. Especially, since children are often indirect victims of violence against women.
The messages and images embroidered in these aprons are associated with the urgent need to make the high levels of gender-based violence visible and question and contest our society’s patriarchal structure and severe social inequalities.
As an academic researcher, I have been investigating the roots of violence against women in Chile and Latin America since 2010 and was very aware of the limitations of sharing academic research with audiences. In my experience, my research was either shared in the form of academic papers presented in symposiums or conferences with a strictly academic audience or in exhibitions in art galleries, museums and cultural centres, where I received hardly any feedback. Sharing my work with other academics who were aware of the importance of tackling violence against women was important for developing my theoretical research to contribute to this particular area of knowledge. However, violence against women in Chile is an urgent generalised problem that needs to be taken outside the comfort and privilege of these academic research spaces to be provoked, questioned, tackled, confronted.
In creating these garments, I found a new way to share my research with non-specialist audiences, widening understanding of the topic of violence against women. Thus, I achieved an active involvement of participants in my work, in the sense that my research collaborators suggested the messages that I later hand-embroidered into the blue apron. These texts are a mixture of misogynist statements made by Chilean politicians in the past five years and typical sexist phrases and words heard by women on a daily basis.
As a textile artist, I made these garments with the aim to find a way to approach an audience by encouraging a conversation of topics that are difficult to discuss but of which we all could potentially have something to say. Their collaboration was key, not only in the creative aspect of my work but also in their active role in starting conversations with friends, colleagues, family members, acquaintances, about the urgent need to stop tolerating violence against women and girls.
Shercliff, E. & Twigger Holroyd, A. (2020) ‘Stitching Together: Participatory textile making as an emerging methodological approach to research’, Journal of Arts & Communities, 10(1-2), pp.5-18.
Biography: Daniela Lara-Espinoza is a Chilean PhD researcher at Edinburgh College of Art, The University of Edinburgh (funded by ANID Becas Chile). Her main artistic practice is bead embroidery. For her PhD research, she explored the role of hand-embroidered artworks as an active communication tool to raise awareness of the high levels of violence against women in Chile and Latin America; questioning and contesting the patriarchal societies. She holds a Master’s degree in Gender Studies and Culture from the Universidad de Chile (funded by CONICYT). Her latest group exhibitions include ‘Broken Promises’ (2019) and ‘Materialities’ (2018), both at Tent Gallery, Edinburgh. The video presentation of her research is available on YouTube (with English subtitles)
Collaborators of this research (the texts in the blue apron): Ana Valenzuela, Fernanda, María José Larrondo, Calico.Beads, Claudialejandra, Mane Cattan, TeltiClelia, Nati, Carola, PaPer, trinidad, anónima, Sofía Farias R, Sylvana, Violeta, nicolcone, Claudia Zamora Cabezas, Mapaulami, Marieli, P.3.k.3, Bapa, Mara, Carlos, Roxana Gómez Tapia, Valmor, Luis, Keren Valenzuela, Gon, Ester, Deborah Valentina, Valentín Clarita.
This research was funded by ANID Becas Chile and partially funded by the Tweedie Exploration Fellowship from the University of Edinburgh and the PRE Grant from Edinburgh College of Art, UoE.
Special thanks to my research assistant Javier Morales.
Photo credits: all images copyright Daniela Lara-Espinoza, with exception of the image of the pink apron in the vacant lot of land, copyright Javier Morales.