On September 13, 2016, the Colby College Museum of Art opened an exhibit of work by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles. Teresa Margolles: We Have a Common Thread highlights her collaborations with native embroiderers from Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and the United States. In most cases, Margolles invited the embroiderers to create textiles from fabric stained with the bodily fluids of womxn who had suffered violent deaths. This process was used to elicit conversations about the violence and social problems in their respective communities. Margolles’s work borrows from a variety of needle arts such as stitching, threading, and embroidery. Using these methods, art is created over marks of violence, representing a multitude of struggles that occur in neighboring countries. For me, this brings into perspective the notion that violence is global; we cry about similar things all over the world.
The videos that documented the process of making these testimonial quilts awoke many emotions I have personally tried to hide or protect. Violence against womxn and marginalized groups is a continuous battle and an ongoing topic of discussion here at Colby. The response to such violence manifests itself in a variety of ways: kept silent, shared in personal conversation, or publicly acknowledged in demonstrations or protests.
The quilts not only share testimonies of victims’ lives, but also offer opportunities to overcome pain together. The womxn who created these works have transformed tragedy into something honorable for those who died, using a process both inspiring and breathtaking due to the actual physical traces of the women. Experiencing the quilts puts viewers face-to-face with death.
In conjunction with this exhibition, the Museum is partnering with Colby’s Feminist Alliance, Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity (SOBHU), and the Womxn of Color Alliance (WOCA) to put together a series of events entitled Quilted Conversations: Voicing Challenges in Our Own Communities that will take place over the course of three sessions.
Saturday, September 17 will be dedicated to watching Margolles’ videos, viewing the quilts, and thinking about them as a collective in order to reflect upon the art-making process. Katz Curator Diana Tuite will help guide participants through watching the videos as well as examining the artwork. A deeper understanding of the issues as they relate to different groups may be reached as we discuss and share personal concerns.
On Saturday, September 24, a professional textile artist will introduce a variety of techniques before participants begin work on their own quilt blocks. Ultimately, all the blocks will be sewn together, creating a community quilt to be presented to the campus, along with artist statements, on Thursday, September 29, the final workshop day.
This exhibition plays a powerful role at the Colby College Museum of Art because it invites visitors to discuss the violence happening in our own communities and worldwide. This is evident in american Juju for the Tapestry of Truth, 2015, the one work produced in the United States, which expresses concerns about daily violence faced by members of the African-American community. This topic has been covered nationwide, mostly in connection with police brutality. It is also important to recognize the violence happening in Latinx communities, such as the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. These are but a few of the many, often silenced, types of violence that occur today. With this exhibition may come the start of a new dialogue, the recognition of similar experiences members of different communities have shared, and an environment in which new voices are welcome.
I hope that Quilted Conversations will help spark participants’ imagination in creating alternative, nonverbal forms of storytelling. Margolles’ work operates in this vein, compelling visitors to look at death and violence through the eyes of her collaborators.
You can RSVP for the workshops here.