Saturday, 25 April 2020

Arpillera Doll Virtual Exhibition

Just now I'm concentrating on preparing for my final exhibition for my Phd which was scheduled to take place next March 2021. It might still happen then, I'm not sure but I'll keep on getting everything ready!

In the meantime, while doing mostly the PhD work for now, I have taken part in an Arpillera Doll Virtual Exhibition in connection with Conflict Textiles.  My husband, Arthur, photographed the little doll that I made cradled in the palm of my hand and she features on the exhibition poster, seen below.



The idea for an arpillera doll exhibition originated with the exhibition Embracing Human Rights: Conflict Textiles' Journey curated by Roberta Bacic in the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, Limavady, Co. Londondery which was to be ongoing until 16th May 2020 but, due to the present situation, can now be visited online. The centre's Kids Activity Section had issued an invitation to make your own arpillera doll in connection with the online version of the exhibition and this prompted the widening out of the doll-making activity.

Pieces in the exhibition were sourced within the boundaries of Northern Ireland which meant that those held farther afield, such as mine in Wales, were not included on this occasion but the invitation to make a doll connected to one of the pieces exhibited was expanded to include not only original  exhibitors but also those such as myself who have a close association with Conflict Textiles.

Among the works exhibited, I was drawn particularly to Mi Guernica/My Gernika by Edurne Mestraitua. I found this a very moving piece through its imagery and colour palette and also when I read the story behind the arpillera. Edurne's mother lived through the terrible day of bombardment in  Guernica in which so many of the townspeople died and, though she told her daughter about her experience repeatedly, she did this only in her later years and Edurne's father, who lived through the same event, never spoke about it. Mi Guernica/My Gernika can be seen here.

It may be that I was drawn to this piece especially because of associations with my own experience of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. My living and working in Belfast in the mid 1970s - early 1980s meant that I was in the city at the height of the Troubles and I experienced many incidents from witnessing rioting and explosions to being caught up in them. There was one particular bomb blast in which I was convinced I had lost my life  -  it turned out I had lost consciousness and all feelings of bodily reality for a time but I gradually realised that I was still alive in this mortal being after all!

Edurne has modelled her interpretation of her mother's memories of the bombardment through Picasso's painting Guernica. The lace on my doll's dress echoes the lace on Edurne's arpillera and the red of her dress connects with the flames in Mi Guernica/My Gernika. Other colours which Edurne has used in her arpillera are greys and as with Picasso's Guernica, blacks and whites feature prominently. These relate strongly to many of my pieces on conflict and also to the colours that are important in my poem Belfast: Lagan Revisited which you can hear me reading on SoundCloud and which begins:-

It was black and red then
shadows darker than coal . . .

The poem is based around a particular evening in Belfast when multiple bombs were exploding in the city and I had to walk along unfamiliar streets to get to the train station from the Central Library where I was working at the time so that I could get home to the village of Groomsport where I lived. There was fire everywhere, buildings darkly anonymous and smoke billowed into the sky. The vivid memory of that night has not faded over the years so I feel I could relate in a small way to the dreadful happening in Guernica and how the trauma of such an event stays in the mind. My little doll is dressed in those colours of Mi Guernica/My Gernika and of Belfast aflame.


Here she is against the wood of a table.

At first, I didn't have a name for my little doll but I have decided to call her Maria Chiara because Maria (or Mary) speaks to me of the name of Mary the Mother of God and of Mary Magdalene, first witness to Christ's resurrection and Chiara (Claire) means clear, light, luminous. This quality of light is important because my little doll is gentle. She carries the sorrowful memories in the crosses on her apron but her features are benign because she looks on the world with gentleness. Her experience has not made her bitter because she knows that love wins out over the blows of hatred and violence. She is a witness to the conflict but it has not destroyed her spirit. She has a fragility and so I cradle her but  she has strength, too. She is a survivor and this has resonances with these strangest of times that we find ourselves living in in these early years of the twenty-first century. If we work together, despite all the arguments and debates, mistakes and problems that confront us and that we ourselves create, humankind can and has overcome terrifying situations that the world has seen throughout history. Many are suffering now but many are also working to find a way through and we all of us can play our part in helping the world survive.



My work as witness to conflict and to peace continues and Maria Chiara now sits in one of my thread boxes beside me as I work.

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