TEXT: DIJANNE CEVAAL
Boneca de Atauro was founded in 2007 by a group of four sewing women and with the help of Ester Piera Zuercher , a Swiss artist and with the support of Padre Luis Fornasier on Atauro Island, a small island off the coats of Dili in Timor Leste.
In 2008 they made a bid for a UNICEF tender to make 3,200 dolls for pre-school children in Timor Leste and were successful in their bid. Ester’s work continued closely for a long period and still continues though she now lives elsewhere. The group has also had to help of David Palazon a Spanish artist who is a lifelong supporter. A year later, the group had an exhibition at the Fondacio Oriente in Dili, leading to greater exposure of the group in Timor Leste. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the group and will be celebrated in their shop which opened last year in Dili . The project has grown beyond the shores of Atauro Island and is now reaching out internationally.
The group has become a cooperative and is a unique organization that sees 60 women ( and some men) work together and grow a very special community that sees not only sewing, embroidery and emerging artwork
being produced, but holds a dream for their own centre.
Education is a strong focus of the cooperative, learning digital and computing skills, social media, English and Portugese and of course increasing their embroidery and sewing skills through an artists’ residency program. The range of products made have increased are the skills have become more refined and expanded.
Boneca de Atauro has become a well-known brand on Atauro Island and is a must visit destination in the Lonely Planet travel guide, and has now expanded its reputation into Dili with the opening of their shop
in Dili. However, the group has dreams simply beyond making products and so they have a social mission to empower, educate and provide employment to women and men from Atauro Island so that a strong community sense is maintained.
The women at present work in a government building in Vila Maumeta on Atauro Island . There are many challenges in running a cooperative from such an isolated situation including the fact that electricity is powered by a generator which only runs form 6 pm until 6 am, so no daytime electricity. This means that many of the women work on treadle machines and what they create on those treadle machines is remarkable.
Many of the designs that are stitched have been hand drawn by Head Art Designer Maturina Araujo who never having received formal art education creates beautiful and whimsical designs. Maturina is also the design brain behind their tapestry project, creating individual art works and commissions. The isolation of the island means that many tools of the trade are not available or are difficult to obtain, or the women are simply not aware of the existence of products that would assist in the making of their hand made items.
Not all women have machine skills so hand stitched ornaments and toys are also made which are stuffed with locally grown kapok. other women are involved in the finishing of the bags ensuring handles are
properly attached and zippers are neatly inserted. There are tow cutters employed who cut the fabric and then trim the stitched items. The products have evolved from dolls into individually machine embroidered bags , laptop bags and ipad bags and now tapestries as design skills develop.
Each design is unique and individually executed on a a treadle machine , which makes the workrooms sound like a whirr of activity. Locally made tais are also utilised ,known as hrapanhirik and woven from palm fiber on back looms in the village of Makadade. The tais are strongand the beautiful natural colours of the fibre are enticing. The tais have been used to make bags and pouches and present the group is exploring using it in their tapestry work.
The cooperative of Boneca de Atauro has a dream and that is to have their own building and centre, with working space, education and learning facilities, a performance centre and a library, a centre to maintain the strength of this remarkable working project and offer further opportunities for learning and growth to empower women and children of Atauro Island.