Quipu is a transmedia documentary project that makes visible the stories of 272,000 women and 21,000 men who were sterilised in Peru in the mid¬ 1990s during Alberto Fujimori's regime as a way of reducing poverty. Thousands have claimed this happened without their consent, but until now they have been repeatedly silenced and denied justice. An interplay between a low-tech telephone line and a high-tech digital interface, the Quipu Project enables communities that are politically, geographically, and digitally marginalised to tell their stories in their own words. A simple phone call allows them to record their story into a growing audio archive, which is in turn displayed and shared with the world through our interactive documentary website.
Working closely with activist groups in Peru who have been campaigning around this issue for twenty years, we co-designed the phoneline to work as a tool for sharing stories, connecting with other dispersed activist groups, and personal empowerment and public speaking practice for our largely illiterate participants. Callers can record their own story, in their own language, from anywhere there is a phone signal. They can then also listen to stories recorded by other people and gain a deeper understanding of how their personal experiences are mirrored in countless others across Peru.
The design is inspired by a Quipu - an Incan artifact in which the colors of the strings and the formation of the knots across them is used to convey information, from numeric data to historical narratives. Audiences can explore the archive listening to individual voices following strings that display the entire unedited testimonies. They are also able to listen across the archive following colored knots and hear the multi-vocal narrative that emerges from the repetition of themes and events.
Our project uses Voice Over IP (VoIP) technology to connect each phone call directly with a live website on the Internet. This means that our audio archive is immediately available to be moderated, subtitled, and subsequently disseminated across the web. It also means that we are able to offer our global online audience the chance to record their own message of recognition and support, which can in turn be accessed via the VoIP phoneline by the original contributors in Peru.
Not only is this an original innovation in the form of documentary, but also a powerful method of establishing dialogue and enabling a global community of support.
The Quipu Project has been a collaboration between Chaka Studio, a production company based in London, academics from Bristol University and grassroots organizations in Peru (IAMAMC-AMHBA, AMAEF-C-GTL). The project took several years to build through careful consideration of the needs and perspectives of all partners, in particular with the women’s organizations, whose struggle to find justice is not over. At the moment the project is live, receiving new testimonies and articulating a network of volunteers who take on the tasks of transcribing and translating the new audios. The project so far has streamed more than 6,000 minutes through the phoneline and more than 50,000 minutes through the website. This includes people who call to record testimonies as well as people who call to listen to testimonies shared by others.
Directors: Maria Court (CL), Rosemarie Lerner (PE)
Executive Producers: Maria Court (CL), Rosemarie Lerner (PE), Sebastián Melo (CL)
Creative Technologist: Ewan Cass-Kavanagh (UK)
General Producer: Sandra Tabares-Duque (CO)
UX Design and Development: Mike Robbins (CA), Helios Design Labs
Academic Consultants: Matthew Brown (UK), Karen Tucker (UK)