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Coming to AQC is a special group of textile artists.

There is a small island 25 kilometres off the coast of Dili in East Timor called Ataúro. It is here that Boneca de Ataúro was founded in 2007 by a group of four sewing women with the help of both Ester Piera Zuercher, a Swiss artist and Padre Luis Fornasier. The group has also been helped by Spanish artist David Palazón, a lifelong supporter.

As their name suggests – Ataúro’s Doll in Portuguese – in 2008 the sewing group made a successful bid for a UNICEF tender to make 3,200 dolls for pre-school children in Timor-Leste (East Timor). In 2009 they had an exhibition of their handiwork at the Fondacio Oriente in Dili which lead to greater exposure of the group in Timor-Leste.

2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the group and this milestone will be celebrated in their shop which opened just last year in Dili. Expanding its reputation into Dili has been a welcome benefit which has brought further custom and esteem. Boneca de Ataúro has become such a well-known brand on Ataúro Island that it is now recommended as a must-visit destination in the Lonely Planet travel guide. The results are that the Boneca de Ataúro project has now grown beyond the shores of Ataúro Island and is reaching out internationally.

This unique organisation 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 also fosters a precious goal amongst members: together they work towards their dream of constructing a place to house their own creative centre on the island.

Education is a strong focus of the cooperative. Members learn digital and computing skills, social media, English and Portuguese and work to always increase their embroidery and sewing skills through an artists’ residency program. The range of products made has increased as the artisans skills have expanded and become more refined.

At present, the women work in a government building in Vila Maumeta. There are many challenges in running a cooperative from such an isolated location, including the fact that electricity is powered by a generator which only runs from 6pm until 6am providing no daytime electricity. This means that many of the women work antiquated treadle machines. However, what they create on the treadle machines is remarkable…

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Not all the women have machine skills, so stitched ornaments and toys are also made which are stuffed with locally grown kapok. Other women are involved in the finishing of bags ensuring handles are properly attached and zippers are neatly inserted. There are cutters employed to 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.

Locally made tais (traditional woven cloth) is also utilised, known as hrapanhiririk and woven from palm fibre on back looms in the village of Makadade.

Boneca de Ataúro’s vision is on track. Future plans 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 Ataúro Island will come to the island in coming years.

Meet some of the women from this group at AQC, and see them working.

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