The way the stories of the Arpilleras move people

A guest post by Danielle Young

As a tour guide for the Stitched Voices exhibition in Aberystwyth what I found most interesting and rewarding was witnessing people’s changing perception of and connection to the pieces in the exhibition as each tour progressed. For every tour that I gave, my groups started off politely interested in the arpilleras, but by the end they all seemed very moved by the exhibition and usually expressed a desire to go through it again and bring others. I tended to bring them through the exhibition systematically, sharing what I knew about each piece on display. The stories and experiences that the arpilleras depicted or represented brought the exhibition to life for people, and they always wanted to know more.

The piece I found most powerful was the arpillera called ‘Digital Death.’ This piece showed a blown-up portrait of a little girl superimposed over a desert-like landscape with a small drone flying over and small figures of people running to escape the drone. In the bottom right corner, a man was shown flying the drone from the safety of distant computers. The story this arpillera depicts is of a young girl who lost her parents and siblings in a drone strike. An artist collective in Pakistan took an image of her and blew it up to place in an open area where drones fly overhead so that the remote drone operators would have to put a face to the people that they were killing below.

“Digital Death”, Deborah Stockdale, Republic of Ireland, 2014.

The story of this little girl that the arpillera shows makes a powerful point about the dehumanizing violence of drone strikes. Such strikes often hit unintended targets, such as this little girl, but the drone operators have described their hits as being similar to ‘bug splats.’ I found that when I explained the story of this arpillera to my tour groups, they often stood quietly for much longer taking in everything it had to say.

Danielle Young is a PhD researcher at the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University. In her research, she is interested in relationship between sovereignty and the problem of environmental degradation. During the Aberystwyth display of Stitched Voices, Danielle gave guided tours of the exhibition, providing visitors with crucial insights into the stories behind the textiles…with deep effects on them.

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