The Back Side Story

A Conversation with Chilean Arpilleras
01.31.2023

The Back Side Story is a textile book/zine that, with cute and brightly-colored patchwork and embroidery, documents the civilians daily life, sufferings, and resilience under the Chinese government's zero-Covid policy.

Inspired by the Arpilleras made in Chile during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973–90), the Back Side Story acknowledges the values, aesthetics, and political power in Chilean arpilleras by visually referencing their styles and textile techniques.

As bottom-up, spontaneous reactions from civilians to the dictatorial military government, the Chilean arpilleras can be considered both as weapons for fighting for rights and as tools for communication and spreading information. This work hopes to inherit the soft power from arpilleras – a kind of power that is tactile, subtle, voluntary, and spontaneous, which gathers the collective intelligence, talents, and efforts from the local community. As a point of mobilization, this textile piece might inspire more people, especially those who are currently living under dictatorships, to create pieces that possess this political power with fabric scraps, needles, and threads.

Paragraphs of text are flipped horizontally and embroidered on the front side of masks and fabrics; thus, one can identify the text only when reading from the back side. This intentional action of encrypting information is an attempt to get away from, but also reflect on, censorship.

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A transcription of the text on each page:

2020年2月,人们悼念李文亮医生。“一个健康的社会不应该只有一种声音。”

Feb. 2020, people mourn Dr. Li Wenliang. “A healthy society should never have just one voice.”

“为什么要集中隔离呀,为什么?你们这样对不对呀?你们这样对吗?”
"Why are we doing centralized quarantines? Why? Are you doing this right? Are you?”

“我爸爸现在阳性了很难受,要去医院。我家里有小孩一个人在家,也没有人管他。”
"My dad is positive now and is very uncomfortable. He needs to go to the hospital. I have a child at home alone, and no one can take care of him."

“我也需要上面有好的政策,我可以对居民有交代。现实是没有,没有!”
"I also need a better policy, so that our residents can count on me. But the truth is that there is none, none!"

可能我是一个囚犯,学校是监狱,我每天就是上网课,隔着栏杆看外面的车来车往。
Perhaps I’m just a prisoner, and the school is the jail. What I do everyday is just taking online classes, watching the traffic outside the fences.

不应该让一个人的勇气没有回音。
One's bravery shall not be unechoed.

不能不明白。
Shall not stay uninformed.

白纸革命。
站出来的他们,什么时候回家?
A4 revolution.
Those who stood up and spoke out, when can they go back home safely?

我们将在没有黑暗的地方相见。
自由就是可以说二加二等于四的自由。
We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.

我们为什么要记录这一切?为什么要纪念这一切?
因为“要写下去,在中国的现在,还是没有写处的。”因为“将来总会有记起他们,再说他们的时候的。”
Why are we documenting, memorizing all these?
Because "there is still no way to document it in the present China."
Because "there will always be a time, in the future, to remember them and talk about them."

Karlie Zhao is an MFA student in Digital + Media at RISD.