ARTISANS of ABROLHOS

Renda de Abrolhos
The town of Coronel Xavier Chaves, with approximately 3.000 inhabitants, is located at the center of the historical region of the State of Minas Gerais, scenario of the Inconfidência Mineira (1789), an important political movement of Brazilian history that took place during colonization and the gold exploitation period.

It is only a few kilometers away from the towns of Tiradentes, a municipality of which it was once part, São João Del Rei, and other cities that also had important roles in Brazilian history, culture and baroque art. The town of Coronel Xavier Chaves has recently discovered its tourist vocation, being now in the process of developing it. With a rural economy based on farming and cattle raising, the region is also rich in iron ore. The town’s tranquility is often disturbed by the passage of the train along its mountains, with its hundreds of wagons, carrying iron ore to the port of Sepetiba, in Rio de Janeiro.

city of Coronel Xavier Chaves

The work of the region’s artisan women is well-known, with its handicrafts made with Abrolhos lace. Their association - Associação das Mulheres Artesãs de Coronel Xavier Chaves – AMARCHA – is also an example of community participation in developmental projects. Existing now for 18 years, the association has had a central role in local development. It represents the continuation of the town’s tradition and crafts. About 400 women artisans, of which the great majority are farm workers, have already passed by the association in order to learn how to do the "abrolhos". The result was the possibility of paid work for these women, a subsequent increase in the family income, and a marked improvement in the artisans’ self-esteem – for doing something that is considered valuable and nationally acknowledged, and which is often in the media.

WOMEN’S LANGUAGE AND REPRESENTATION WITHIN THE BRAZILIAN RURAL ENVIRONMENT.

The challenge implied in any survey related to women’s body language is how to maintain its unity with the sociocultural context from where it originates. It reminds us that old women’s tales are the best way to capture this context. A long questionnaire with several themes was applied to a few women from the area under study. Interviews had also been recorded on videotapes, and are part of the Image Bank at the Image Lab. Concurrently, we presented a film showing local women’s body language: at work, either at home or at the fields, during moments of leisure, and performing family and religious duties. The purpose of our research was to discuss the body techniques, materials and rituals used by these Brazilian women, considering the body representation and language contained in their reports.

How could these women meet in order to attain the research goals? An association of women’s artisans seemed to us like an ideal place. And this is why we conducted our work in the artisans’ association, where we started by investigating a technique common to all: a typical embroidering technique, very ancient, which translates into a body movement which produces an aesthetic object, at the same time useful and beautiful.

Research Steps:
1. Inquiry on the women’s cultural memories
2. Film record of the daily body language.
3. Group role playing (dramatic games and video-feedback)

The community was then contacted to do a study, which was recorded in over 11 hours of video, concerning local female body language. It was documented through a report at Unesco ’s request, and constitutes an experiment in the use of videos as research methodology. In this study, the film records have two purposes: to record social and cultural local aspects, from the standpoint of visual anthropology, and to use the technique of video-feedback with the artisans’ group in order to work with body language. The focus was the study of body techniques as a way to reach women’s cultural memories through body language.

The film As bordadeiras (The Embroiderers) portrays a local development initiative in a rural Brazilian town, and points out the importance of local development agents. The interviews with town inhabitants constitute an important record of the cultural memory in a region where oral tradition is still the main source of information on history and culture.

The purpose was to highlight the importance of community participation and, by extension, of participative research, in projects related to sustainable development.

In 2001, a new research document was prepared in the same community: AS BORDADEIRAS (THE EMBROIDERERS).

An artisans’ association located in the interior of the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil, is reviewed 11 years later by a team of researchers.

Why did the association survive despite all the hardships?
What were the changes in the town and in the lives of its inhabitants’?

The artisans talk about their daily lives and the Abrolhos embroidering tradition in successive generations.

Cida Chaves, founder of the association, tells of her trajectory attempting to recover local tradition and to valorize the local women’s work, reflecting at the same time on Brazil as a developing country.

This documentary shows the participation of communities in their own development process and the agents’ role as articulators of development.