Stitched Voices as the beginning of conversations

So much to talk about, where shall we start?

Christine: We should probably begin by explaining what Stitched Voices is all about. Stitched Voices is an exhibition dedicated to textile narratives of struggles against violence, injustice and forgetting in different world regions. The exhibition was first displayed, from March to May 2017, in the main gallery space of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, just across the street from Aberystwyth University’s Department of International Politics. It consisted of a selection of arpilleras (three-dimensional wall hangings), quilts and an installation from the international Conflict Textiles collection, Mexican handkerchiefs produced by the Embroidering for Peace/Bordamos por la Paz movement, as well as banners and textile artwork either made or collected by artists and activists in Wales. Accompanying the exhibition, we also organized a programme of activities and events – textile workshops, embroidery sessions, film screenings, song and poetry events, roundtable discussions and an academic workshop.

Berit: You might wonder: Why a textile exhibition? And why in Aberystwyth? As so often in life, serendipity had something to do with it. In 2012, I had been invited to co-organise an exhibition of textiles and a weekend workshop under the title The Art of Survival in Hamburg. That’s how I met the curator of the Conflict Textiles collection, Roberta Bacic. I admit that originally, I was sceptical with regard to the academic merit of organising an exhibition of textiles, wondering what it would contribute that could not be conveyed otherwise. But the experience of the exhibition and workshop in Hamburg changed my perspective, and at the end of it, I loosely agreed with Roberta to organise an exhibition some day at what I knew would be my new workplace: Aberystwyth University. In 2015, i finally followed up on this idea. The organising team was formed, a process of intense conversations began, and Stitched Voices became a collective endeavour – commissioned by the four authors of this blog, curated by Roberta, and hosted by Aberystwyth Arts Centre and its exhibitions curator Steffan Jones-Hughes.

Lydia: We were very lucky to have Aberystwyth Arts Centre on board, and we learned a lot during our collaboration with them. Before joining the Stitched Voices team, I had worked collaboratively with the Arts Centre to organise roundtable events on the intersections between performance, art, and politics. While these roundtables aimed to cross disciplinary and institutional boundaries, joining the Stitched Voices team has pushed me to think about the potential of these spaces. Previous conversations with the Arts Centre had resulted in promises for future collaboration, but there was little continuous dialogue. This was different with Stitched Voices. Much of what we did throughout the process was building a dialogue surrounding the textiles, making connections between people and groups as we went along. Conversations were at the core of it all and continue to be so.

Dani: A final thing to say before we embark on our discussions here is perhaps that Stitched Voices is about beginnings. All along in the planning of this exhibition we have never held the assumption that the exhibition is the end goal, that installing it would inform people of past and current conflicts, and that this is its sole aim. For us, creating the exhibition meant creating a space where we could begin conversations, where we could engage people from within and outside of academia in more emotional ways of speaking and knowing about conflict, where people could learn about conflicts, but where they could also share their own experiences of them. This was also the motivation behind our events programme. The idea was that this exhibition would not just exhibit work that was complete or of something that had happened and was in the past, but that it would also become a space of creation: instead of conclusions and simple responses, it would be the beginning of conversations.

Each week, we will discuss another aspect of the process of organising Stitched Voices, of the incredible experiences and enriching encounters during its display, and of the questions about curating sensitive knowledge and exhibitions as a methodology to approach political questions that arose from our conversations. Dear reader, we hope you will follow this conversation. Talk soon!

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