The Back Side Story

A Conversation with Chilean Arpilleras

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.


A transcription of the text on each page:


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

"Why are we doing centralized quarantines? Why? Are you doing this right? Are you?”

"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."

"I also need a better policy, so that our residents can count on me. But the truth is that there is none, none!"

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.

One's bravery shall not be unechoed.

Shall not stay uninformed.

A4 revolution.
Those who stood up and spoke out, when can they go back home safely?

We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.

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.