Introduction to the Exhibition
"During 2006 and 2007 Quaker House Belfast asked me to facilitate a series of meetings with women from different backgrounds to discuss issues related to dealing with the past that had affected their lives. To open the discussions, which some participants found difficult, we decided to show a Peruvian Arpillera made by displaced women, from both sides of the conflict, who designed and made the quilt together and used as their testimony to the Truth Commission. Out of this grew the idea of contacting quilt makers in Ireland to see how they had represented the conflict in their work. At the time Helen Quigley, then Mayor of Derry, attended one of the presentations of the Peruvian quilt and asked me to bring to Derry a display of examples of quilts, arpilleras and wall-hangings in the context of International Women's Day 2008. From that initial idea the Art of Survival exhibition was developed."
The following extracts are taken from the exhibition brochure.
The Art of Survival International and Irish Quilts
Quilt making, textiles and fabric have long been entwined in the history of this city.
The task of collecting, preserving and making publicly accessible collections of intrinsic value is vitally important for the city's memory bank. It was with these thoughts in mind that the Heritage and Museum Service of Derry City Council were delighted to have the opportunity to showcase such a significant collection of International and Irish quilts in the city.
Every project has a history and 'The Art of Survival: Fabric Images of Women's Daily Lives' is permanently housed in The Regional and International Museum of Women's Culture in Germany. A substantial part of this exhibition will be displayed at the Tower Museum; 26 quilts from Zimbabwe, Croatia, India and Peru, amongst others. Whilst simultaneously 26 Irish quilts will be on display in venues across the city. The concept of a joint display of quilts is courtesy of guest curator, Roberta Bacic, a Chilean living in Ireland. Chilean arpilleras are on display at the Harbour Museum.
Women have worked with textiles and fabric for centuries. Items were often made to sell in local markets, whilst multinational companies utilised the sewing skills of women. Women also used fabric to tell stories, of conflict, struggle and of survival. The creativity expressed in the handcrafted quilts is testimony to the determination of women across the world.
We hope this exhibition will stimulate an interest and awareness in quilt making but also in preserving memories and understanding the importance of documenting a person's history and heritage.
Our quilts and arpilleras' journey to
Motivated, inspired, triggered, challenged, fascinated and humbled by the Peruvian Arpillera or quilt, 'Yesterday -Today'; made mostly by indigenous women from the Andean region of Peru, this journey to a collective display of works started. These women, bereaved by both sides of the conflict in Peru, displaced and impoverished, found a way to capture the essence of what their needs were as people affected deeply by the war 1980-2000, a war they did not start.This arpillera came for the first time as part of the West Belfast Festival in August 2006, it travelled all around Ireland, and beyond, wrapped in the hand luggage of the curator so as to share its testimony of creative and common journey.
It has been much more than collecting beautiful or interesting pieces. It has been empowering and insightful to meet quilt makers from all over Ireland. For over a year we have shared the meaning of being involved in quilt making and what this has meant to women's lives as individuals and part of a group, and then extend it beyond their group to the other groups of quilt makers. It has also meant looking beyond Ireland, to becoming part of the wider world and feel and share the universality of being a woman and experiencing adverse situations, be those: wars, poverty, marginalisation, political repression, racism, human rights violations, disempowerment, abuse, etc.
Quilting and textile traditions have been for centuries present in women's daily lives. Jennifer Harris says in her book '5000 YEARS OF TEXTILES', (published in 1993 and reedited in 2006 by the British Museum Press),"Textiles are made to be used primarily as furnishings and dress, and are expected to wear out and eventually be discarded." She also points out that it is through decorated textiles that the history of textiles can be preserved. In the catalogue's preface to the collection 'Weavings of war, fabrics of memory': (published in 2005 by the Board of Trustees of Michigan State University) we read: "Textile artists, mostly women, have broken their traditions of non figurative work to use pictorial imagery to communicate their personal experiences of war".
In this context it became an imperative to also curate a small collection of Chilean arpilleras. Jorge Semprún in his book, Literature of Life, says: "start to doubt the possibility of telling the story. Not that what we lived through is indescribable. It was unbearable." Chilean arpilleristas communicate, embedded in their daily life, using colorful fabrics what happened to them during the dictatorship, as well as what they did about it.
In this brochure I invite you to introduce yourself to this selection of quilts/arpilleras.
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