Crafting activism

The Centre Cannot Hold: Laborious Memories reviewed
By Sonia Tao
Credit Soledad Fatima Munoz, Amaranta Espinoza Arias, and Lula Almeyda. La parte de atras de la arpillera (stills)

Image Credit: Soledad Fatima Munoz, Amaranta Espinoza Arias, and Lula Almeyda. La parte de atras de la arpillera (stills) 2022 Video Courtesy of the artist.

The Centre Cannot Hold: Laborious Memories
September 14, 2022 – June 30, 2023
Jackman Humanities Institute
10th Floor Jackman Humanities Building
Toronto, Ontario
Curators: Atif Mikhail Khan, Sherry Chunqing Liu, Erin Storus

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The Centre Cannot Hold: Labourious Memories is a collaboration between the Art Museum at the University of Toronto (UofT) and the Jackman Humanities Institute (JHI). The over arching curatorial theme is “artistic labour in relation to community building, activism, and memory.” The exhibition features three sections, each curated by a student in the Master of Visual Studies in Curatorial Studies program at UofT (Sherry Chunqing Liu, Erin Storus, and Atif Mikhail Khan).

As I moved through the exhibition space, Erin Storus’ curated exhibition caught my interest. Soledad Fátima Muñoz / Bélgica Castro Fuentes/ Amaranta Espinoza Arias: These Walls Hold Our Wounds, features three arpilleras. Arpilleras are large pieces of fabric with patterns stitched onto the textile. They are composed of different materials, such as burlap, polyester, and wool yarn. The arpilleras represent the artists’ resistance against the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the intervention of North American capitalist systems in Chile.

In their curatorial statement, Storus describes arpilleras as: “Often relegated to the realm of vernacular or popular culture, these textile forms of artistic labour quite literally ‘craft’ notions of resistance through the slow threading of discourses of power, gender, and identity.” This idea is illustrated in artist Belgica Castro Fuentes’ arpillera, titled Estallido, which translates to “explosion” in English. Measuring 53 x 44 inches, the fabric work is “polyester textile scraps on textile backing.” It shows two women throwing, what appears to be, an explosive into the smoky sky. Grey poppies tumble around them, and red poppies grow from the ground. There are some buildings on the side, against a backdrop of a red sun and dark mountains. The imagery of women setting off an explosion highlights their agency, as they engage in an act of resistance. Their garments are woven in bright hues, which draw attention. By putting women at the forefront of this arpillera, Fuentes shows the power of women and resistance through crafts.

Storus’ curation also includes a 23 minute video titled La parte atras de la arpillera, which translated in English means “the back of the burlap.'' The informative video documents and provides context to the craft making process highlighting the artists and other arpillera makers. We see how arpilleras strengthen the community. One of my favourite moments is a shot of women protesting in the streets with the subtitles, “embroidering collectively connect us with each other.” It demonstrates the power of community, and how integral it is to the arpillera making process. It also reminds me of our interdependence on each other, especially in times of resistance. Through arpilleras, women bond together to create political work. Thus, arpilleras are tools of resistance. They strengthen the community and reaffirm crafts as activism.

Sonia Tao
Sonia Tao (she/her) is an emerging writer based in Toronto.
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
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