Category Archives: art

Exhibition: Arpilleras in contested spaces

Arpilleras are hand-made textiles, made by Chilean women from scraps of fabric to tell stories about life during the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990). First sailing under the political radar, due in part to their humble domestic origins, the arpilleras were eventually declared “seditious handcrafts”. Their makers, the arpilleristas, were reviled as subversive of the Chilean state and were persecuted for their critical stance and dedicated advocacy of human rights.

NO a la ley antirrerorista/NO to the antiterrorist law Chilean arpillera, Aurora Ortiz, 2011. Photo Martin Melaugh [Image c/o Te Papa Museum Wellington]

NO a la ley antirrerorista/NO to the antiterrorist law
Chilean arpillera, Aurora Ortiz, 2011. Photo Martin Melaugh

Curator Roberta Bacic, a Chilean now based in Ulster in Northern Ireland, brought approximately twenty pieces from her personal collection to stage an exhibition of arpilleras in Wellington, New Zealand, in conjunction with the Third International Conference on Visual Methods. In her conference keynote address, Roberta highlighted the historical and contemporary significance of the arpilleras as acts of political testimony, which have inspired similar works in other “contested spaces” around the world. She framed them as deserving the status of works of art, beyond “folk craft”.

The arpilleras were exhibited in St Andrew’s Church, in the heart of the city—a fitting location, as the MC pointed out, due to the important role of church communities in helping to support the arpilleristas and the Chilean community in exile. An opening night hosted by the Chilean community in Wellington and in the presence of the Chilean Ambassador to New Zealand brought together stories of the arpilleristas and their work in song, dance, poetry, story, and film.

This was an extraordinary exhibition, and an important moment for the Chilean community to have some recognition of its history. The Pinochet years are not “past”—many Chileans live with the legacy of this time. To see Chilean community members Ines and Katya dance La Cueca Sola, in memory of women whose husbands “disappeared” under the regime, brought some audience members to tears. The remarkable thing is that many arpilleras express a love of life and hope for the future. The message of the arpilleristas is ultimately one of democracy, justice and peace.

Arpilleras in contested spaces, at St Andrew’s on the Terrace, Wellington NZ, ends on 6 September.

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“flotsamandjetsam”: New exhibition by Alex Selenitsch

"dispersed brown slab" by Alex Selenitsch

A new show of works by Alex Selenitsch opens at Place Gallery in Richmond on 9 May.

Alex is a man of many talents: poet, teacher, architect, artist (in no particular order). Formally, his visual works often appear modernist in inspiration, but they also draw on the artist’s personal recollections and interest in identity and the history of place. Words and their placement are also important.

The title of his latest show, “flotsamandjetsam”, is testament to all this. The show promises mixed media, collage, intense colour harmonies – and perhaps a dash of agent provocateur sensibility.

Looking at Alex’s work, I am often reminded of Paul Klee. Klee also favoured mixed media, and his works on paper are characterised by texture and vibrant colour. “Abstract” forms break up and float free from the confines of the modernist grid. There is a sense of playfulness, a willingness to look differently at things. Alex’s work is very much his own, but I find similar (to me, admirable) qualities there.