A guest post by Amal Abu-Bakare
This past April I had the pleasure of providing tours for the Stitched Voices exhibit at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. It was both a pleasure and a privilege, being given the opportunity to tell the unique stories of people from Chile to Northern Ireland engaging in struggle throughout the globe. As a doctoral student within the Department of International Politics, my interest in understanding the ‘personal’ in the political was not only provided for, it was captivated.
Each arpillera, each performance piece, each stitch, and each workshop demonstrated a new opportunity to be a part of another person’s story for a single moment. As a person who does not personally consider herself to be ‘artistically gifted’ (meaning I cannot stitch, sew, paint or draw…) it was wonderful to be able to present the work of those who were immensely gifted in those areas, and who used such gifts towards political protest.
There are few things more poetic than watching a poet use poetry to perform resistance; a musician play towards defiance; or a Chilean dancer dance the Cueca Sola, a dance performed by women, alone, so as to protest their loved ones being taken under the Pinochet regime. As a tour guide I was able to walk wall-to-wall presenting resistance as an art form, as a tapestry, as a canvas, and as an embroidered handkerchief. Yet, predictably, as someone who greatly appreciates written words, my favourite piece was a textile displayed at the Aberystwyth exhibition titled Hilvanando la busqueda, or in English ‘Stitching the search’.
To understand the context to which this large tapestry was created, one would have to go back to October 30, 1974. On this day, social work student Jacqueline Drouilly and her husband, Marcelo Salinas Eytel, were abducted from their home by security police 13 months after General Pinochet seized power in Chile. Jacqueline’s family, despite embarking on a painstaking search process and appealing for her asylum, never saw Jacqueline or her partner again. Both Jacqueline and Marcelo’s cases were adopted by Amnesty International, yet Jacqueline’s family never even came to know whether the couple’s baby was born.
Despite this sad story, with Hilvanando la busqueda, Nicole Drouilly, Jacqueline’s younger sister, commemorates Jacqueline through letters and poems written between her family and her sister presented on a quilt. For Nicole, as presented in the textile’s back story, this quilt provides solace: “the geometrical designs…give order to chaos…a labyrinth ends in a wall…mandalas…guide my actions and infinite journeys”. Though ‘missing’, Jacqueline is shown to be present, with the evidence of her words still resilient, forever embroidered as part of a movement bigger than herself, as other victims of the Pinochet regime and their relatives continue to seek justice.
With each tour, I told the Drouilly story as passionately as I could, hoping to do it some small justice, and each tour group reacted differently. Many asked for further information on the Drouilly family, several lingered attempting to thoroughly read each letter written in Spanish. There was a sense of loss, but there was also a sense of deep thoughtfulness and reflection granted through each person’s encounter with Hilvanando la busqueda, as many had the realisation that, despite Pinochet’s actions, Jacqueline and her resistance were still here.
As guests to the Stitched Voices exhibit continued to file in and out of the room, I’m sure, stories like that of Jacqueline Drouilly resonated with them profoundly, as some even said the exhibit encouraged and inspired them to stitch in solidarity. Ceredigion’s small but active politically conscious community showed itself through attendance – each guest sharing their own stories, their own artistry, and their own stitched voices. As a mere tour guide, I was glad I briefly managed to escort them on such a journey. I encourage anyone reading this blog entry to attend Stitched Voices when it makes its way to your city (e.g. Birmingham), that you can find your stitched story, too.
Amal Abu-Bakare is a PhD student at the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University. In her PhD research, she looks at the topic of racialisation and the politics of counterterrorism approaches within the United Kingdom and Canada. She supported Stitched Voices by giving guided tours through the exhibition at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. And although she claims not to be artistically gifted, she made the expressive arpillera doll above.