Dual-Campus Collaboration Brings Chilean Arpilleras to SUNY Potsdam’s Gibson Gallery and St. Lawrence University’s Richard F. Brush Gallery
A “Sewn in Protest: Chilean Aprilleras from the 1970s and ‘80s” exhibition showcasing handmade Chilean patchwork tapestries called arpilleras opens at SUNY Potsdam’s Gibson Gallery on Thursday, Feb. 14, at 5 p.m. with a faculty panel discussion on life in Chile during the brutal military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The opening reception will follow from 6 to 8 p.m. with arpilleras on display throughout the gallery. Caramelo Trio will perform music inspired in Latin American traditions, featuring works by Violeta Parra and Victor Jara. The exhibition runs until March 30. A separate collection of arpilleras will also be on display at St. Lawrence University’s Richard F. Brush Gallery from March 4, at 7 p.m. through April 11.
Spearheaded by SUNY Potsdam History professor Dr. M.J. Heisey and Spanish professors Dr. Liliana Trevizán and Dr. Oscar Sarmiento, the exhibitions will showcase arpilleras, Chilean patchwork tapestries from the 1970s and 1980s that depict protests against human rights violations in Chile but also the extraordinary efforts to care for families and communities and to celebrate the joy of life. Early arpilleristas, as the artists were known, sometimes sewed the tapestries from scraps of clothing from missing or abducted relatives. A growing number of women made arpilleras to support their families financially. Women almost always sewed together in groups, finding support for problems at home and in the dictatorship—while also learning valuable political skills. This connected the arpilleristas to a growing national human rights movement that helped to set Chile on a path back to democracy.
Jubilee Crafts, a Philadelphia fair-trade company in the 1970s and 1980s staffed entirely by women, imported hundreds of arpilleras and marketed them nationwide to educate Americans about U.S. foreign policy and human rights abuses in Chile. Heisey, who was the director of Jubilee Crafts, recently learned that a collection of arpilleras had been sitting in a co-worker’s basement since the company closed in the 1990s. Heisey connected with fellow SUNY Potsdam professors Trevizán and Sarmiento—both university students and teachers in Chile during the dictatorship—to collaborate on the project.
A student-faculty collaboration on a larger project, “Forging Memory: Chilean Art and Politics,” laid the groundwork for the exhibitions. More than 15 Spanish and History majors, as well as international studies students and art students, contributed to the project. Spanish majors Ryan Hutchins ’19 and Charina Medina ’19 conducted extensive interviews with Dr. Trevizán about Chile and arpilleras. Hutchins also traveled to Chile for two weeks during the summer of 2018 with Trevizán, Sarmiento, St. Lawrence University visiting assistant professor Tamara Feinstein and St. Lawrence student Janis Border ’20 to conduct research and interview some of the original arpilleristas, all in preparation for the exhibitions.
This work of faculty and students provides a deeper understanding of the meaning behind more than 60 arpilleras, which will be presented in the two exhibitions. The text accompanying the arpilleras is presented in both English and Spanish. At the conclusion of the two North Country exhibitions, the collection will be donated to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile, where the beautiful tapestries will make their final home.
For more information about the “Sewn in Protest” exhibition at SUNY Potsdam, visit: www.potsdam.edu/community/art-museum/exhibitions/gibson-gallery/current-upcoming-exhibits.
North Country Public Radio is the media sponsor for “Sewn in Protest.”
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