Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Conflict is getting transformed at UMass

By Ashley Berger

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Made using materials as simple as rags from flour sacks or the clothes of loved ones, arpilleras tell a story of poverty in Latin America, according to curator Roberta Bacic.

Bryn Rothschild-Shea/Collegian

“This is the art poverty, these women had nothing,” Bacic said.

The arpilleras – colorful textiles that usually have political connotations – are part of the 2012 Art of Conflict Transformation Event Series, which focuses on women living in and dealing with conflict situations.

The art of constructing arpilleras has therapeutic properties because the creator does not have to face another person to tell their story, according to Bacic.

“The arpilleras can tell the story and not express the shame,” said Bacic.

Arpilleras were first woven in Chile, where women wove the tapestries to cope with the themes of devastation, displacement and terror.

“The technique of creating arpilleras was born in Chile and transformed into a way to use the resources you have to say what you normally would not be able to,” said Bacic. “This is the art of letting go and moving on, but to always remember.”

The Student Union Art Gallery features 40 arpilleras from around the world. The political textiles serve as a vehicle for women to express resistance and respond to political and state violence, according to Bacic.

While many of the arpilleras come from Latin and South America, other locations featured were Germany, Northern Ireland and Zimbabwe.

In a privately guided tour yesterday celebrating the exhibit’s opening, Bacic said that the delicate textiles that use a variety of colors – ranging from vibrant pinks and blues to black and haunting grays, blacks and reds – are not encased in glass.

“Textiles are meant to be seen, to be observed, not to be hidden behind glass,” said Bacic.

Junior political science and sociology major Gaby Corbera said she was emotional after seeing the textiles and reading the stories behind them.

“I am Latin American and I think this was very representative of Latin American culture,” Corbera said. “It is interesting to see that how by quilting you can express a political idea for women who generally don’t have the means by which to do so.”

“What better way to learn than through art and not through a book,” said Corbera.

Along with the lecture and the gallery exhibit – which is open until Friday, March 9 – the series will offer different events, including a poetry reading by Marjorie Agosín, a Wellesley College professor. There will also be a conversation between Bacic, Agosín and UMass professor James Young and a final lecture by professor Pilar Hernandez-Wolfe of Lewis and Clark College.

The series is organized by Leah Wing, a legal studies professor whose work focuses on conflict and untraditional ways of solving and coping with dispute.

“The events this spring challenge the notion within the conflict resolution field that resistance to conflict is part of the problem,” said Wing. “Rather we explore the creative ingenuity of women living under state repression who have resisted the silence about the erasure of their family members – tortured and disappeared – and have found ways to make these stories visible to the world through textiles.”

It’s Wing’s wish that the UMass community takes away a deep message from the event series.

“I hope that this will continue to build on the interdisciplinary exploration of conflict and its resolution in both academic and creative arts at UMass.”

From 2008 to 2010, UMass hosted a similar series centered on exposing and discussing the conflict in Northern Ireland and expressed the resilience through murals.

Already, the event series has gotten a positive response from students and faculty.

“It is a way to connect students to their world on important issues of concern to so many,” said Wing.

“We are interconnected and interdependent with other[s] throughout the globe,” she added. “Studying how conflict can and is creatively transformed helps the next generation of dispute resolvers and scholars contribute to making this a better world.”

Agosín’s poetry reading will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies. The Bacic, Agosín and Young panel will also be held at the Institute on Friday, March 2 at 12 p.m.

The Hernandez-Wolfe lecture will take place Monday, March 5 at 4:30 p.m. in Campus Center Room 803. All events are free and open to the public.

Ashley Berger can be reached at [email protected].

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