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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Liu

Virtual Exhibition: "Following the Footsteps of the Disappeared" (Day 1, Launch)

This exhibition is a partnership between Conflict Textiles, the Ulster Museum and the John Hume and Thomas P. O'Neill Chair in Peace, Ulster University.

Speakers from Day 1 of programme

Conflict textiles has been on my radar since 2018. While I was studying textile design in London, I was becoming increasingly interested in textiles that were made in conflict. For my final year, I decided to write my dissertation on how the needle becomes the pen. My research led me to discover Roberta Bacic and her in-depth work with conflict textiles. Since then, every year, she has most generously invited me to attend seminars and exhibitions that she curates. It is from Roberta that I learned the power of textiles and the importance of caring.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending a two-day programme of seminars and a textile display curated by Roberta, titled "Following the Footsteps of the Disappeared." Launched on the 30th of August 2020, this event took place to mark International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. Since the theme explored was on the search for the disappeared, the 20 textile pieces (from Chile, Peru, Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina) displayed in this virtual exhibition were dedicated not only to remembering the disappeared persons but as well to the relatives of the disappeared. In addition to seeing a collection of textile pieces, speakers were invited to help us delve in to the theme. These speakers ranged from having a background of working in human rights to having personally lost a loved one while under dictatorship rule.

Since there was so much discussed during this two-day programme, I have decided to split my reflection of the virtual exhibition into three entries--the first about the Launch, the second about the Seminar 1 titled "Transnational Experiences of Enforced Disappearances" and then the third about Seminar 2 titled "The Search for the Disappeared: Textile and Art Expressions". As you read on, I hope you find this exhibition to be inspiring and moving, and also an important one to remember.

Highlights from Day 1 (30/08/20): Launch of "Following the Footsteps of the Disappeared"

Speakers-- Professor Brandon Hamber (moderator),

Karen Logan (Senior Curator at the National Museum in N.I.),

Roberta Bacic (curator, Conflict Textiles),

Rainer Huhle (an independent expert of the UN Committee on enforced

disappearances from 2011-2019),

Gonzalo (special guest speaker)

Early Sunday morning in Minnesota, I am sitting at my kitchen table, with coffee in hand, and watching the Launch from my laptop. What amazes me is the turn out. There are more than 80 people online watching, listening to the speakers from all over the world. What impresses me is not just the turn out, but also the level of interaction in the chat column. For me, this shows how important this exhibition is. Here, I saw how emotionally present and invested everyone was to the topic at hand. What is apparent is that fact that there is a collective acknowledgement of an epidemic of forced, traumatic disappearances all over the world.

Guadalupe Ccallocunto,

image from Rainer Huhle's presentation "Guadalupe's Longing."

Rainer Huhle's presentation on Guadalupe's Longing is poignant, setting the tone for the programme. Through his powerpoint, Rainer introduces Guadalupe Ccallocunto to us-- a Peruvian woman who became a human rights activist after her husband disappeared in the early 1980s during the war between the Peruvian government and the Shining Path movement. On the 10th of June 1990, Guadalupe's children witnessed her abduction from her home by the military. To this day, no one knows where she is or what happened to her.

Rainer shows images of Guadalupe's legacy. The images show the work that Guadalupe had done with the children of Ayacucho, creating a unique creche (or kindergarten) where kids made play-dough-like figures made out of potato and flour paste, pottery and textiles. What the children made in their arts and crafts time were revealing. The scenery that the children made were of military men with guns, of violent removals of their parent. As Rainer explained, it seemed as if Guadalupe was helping the children work out their nightmares in their own hands.

Figures made out of potato and flour paste by children,

image from Rainer Huhle's presentation "Guadalupe's Longing."

Guadalupe as well left behind three textile pieces that she made, which reflected and recorded her stories and stories of others around her. Rainer shares an image of a handkerchief that Guadalupe stitched with an image of a little boy. Above the boy are words stitched in red thread that reads: SIGO ESPERANDO QUE LLEGE LA JUSTICIA Y SABER QUE HICIERON CON MI PAPA. Translated into English, it reads: "I keep waiting for justice to arrive and to know what they did with my dad." Rainer explains that it is most likely that Guadalupe was recording the spoken words of the children she looked after in her village.

Handkerchief made by Guadalupe Ccallocunto,

image from Rainer Huhle's presentation "Guadalupe's Longing."

Guadalupe holding a small picture of her missing husband,

image from Rainer Huhle's presentation "Guadalupe's Longing."

Following Rainer's presentation on Guadalupe was a special guest who provided a moving reflection of Guadalupe's Longing-- Guadalupe's son, Gonzalo. Although speaking entirely in Spanish, you can feel how touched he was by Rainer's presentation. As Guadalupe's son, he was deeply moved that after 30 years, his mother is still being remembered. For him, hearing about his mother is like a jigsaw where he is still fitting piece by piece, re-discovering, who his mother was.

Guadalupe's arpillera, titled "Recuerdos de Guadalupe / Guadalupe's Longings", is currently on display in the virtual exhibition. To see her arpillera on display and to learn more about Guadalupe, you can go to these following links:

National Museum NI website--

Conflict Textiles website--

In Roberta's words (more or less), arpilleras have a naive way of showing harrowing things, unlike a photograph. The process of stitching arpilleras takes time. Since it is a slow process, the act of stitching becomes a time of reflection, where the arpillerista keeps adding to the piece, and carefully ponders upon how she is to represent the scene that is before her.

Here is a video clip that marks the launch of "Following the Footsteps of the Disappeared":

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