Wednesday, 29 March 2023

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The Story behind Conflict Textiles 

Conflict Textiles has its origins in an exhibition The Art of Survival: International and Irish Quilts which was held at nine venues across Derry ~ Londonderry in early 2008. This exhibition, which also featured Chilean arpilleras (three dimensional textiles from Latin America, which originated in Chile) was the result of collaboration between Derry City Council Heritage and Museum Services and The Junction with guest curator Roberta Bacic.

The Art of Survival: International and Irish QuiltsHow it came about

Explaining the origins of this initiative, Roberta Bacic reflects:

“During 2006 and 2007 Quaker House Belfast asked me to facilitate a series of meetings with women from different backgrounds to discuss issues related to dealing with the past that had affected their lives. To open the discussions, which some participants found difficult, we decided to show a Peruvian arpillera made by displaced women, from both sides of the conflict, who designed and made the arpillera together and used as their testimony to the Truth Commission. Out of this grew the idea of contacting quilt makers in Ireland and Northern Ireland to see how they had represented the conflict in their work. At the time Helen Quigley, then Mayor of Derry, attended one of the presentations of the Peruvian arpillera and asked me to bring a display of quilts, arpilleras and wall-hangings to Derry in the context of International Women’s Day 2008. From that initial idea the Art of Survival exhibition was developed.”

The exhibition was well received by viewers due to the variety of pieces on display portraying conflict in diverse situations and the level of engagement with participants, facilitated by guided tours and ‘hands-on’ workshops. Naturally there was a demand for follow up and the hosting of similar type exhibitions.

This exhibition marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between the Council’s Tower Museum and Roberta Bacic leading to further textile exhibitions, workshops and outreach activities. From June 2015 to December 2016, pieces from the collection were on permanent exhibit at the Tower Museum and the Guildhall on a six-months rotating basis.

Beginning the digital archive

At an early stage, due to the level of interest, it was deemed necessary to begin the process of compiling a digital record of the first and subsequent exhibitions and other associated events. This initial website entitled, The Art of Survival: International and Irish Quilts, was compiled by Martin Melaugh and Roberta Bacic as part of an AHRC-funded project on victims, survivors and commemoration in post-conflict Northern Ireland. Since 2008, Martin Melaugh, in his role as CAIN Director with the International Conflict Research Institute (INCORE), Ulster University, has continued to maintain this site. As the amount of information expanded it was decided in 2014 to produce a more interactive website with more sophisticated searching facilities. Mike McCool, ICT Manager at INCORE, designed the new site and wrote the programs to enable the searching facilities and output tables to function. The Conflict Textiles site was launched on 19 November 2015.

Interview with Roberta Bacic

This interview provides some background to the depth and extent of the Conflict Textiles collection, as of April 2014, and the relevance of this digital archive.