On Human Rights Day (Friday 10 December 2021), the Colombian Truth Commission visited the Magee campus to launch a thought-provoking new Con-textualising Memory exhibition, which will be on display in the Magee campus until 27 January 2022.
This exhibition examines the nature of memory and testimony in the context of the Colombia and Northern Ireland Peace Processes, and features handcrafted dolls made by survivors of human rights violations in Colombia, with two of the doll-makers, Amparo Restrepo and Marina Echeverría, members of the Colombian exiled community in the UK, participating in the launch.
The exhibition is the latest installment in the evolving Conflict Textiles Collection which uses textiles to document and narrate conflict in Northern Ireland and around the world.
The textile dolls on display in the exhibition were created through a series of workshops hosted in partnership with Conflict Textiles, Colombian Truth Commission in the UK/Ireland and Ulster University’s Transitional Justice Institute.
Northern Ireland Visit
Along with the unveiling of the exhibition, Commissioner Dr Carlos M Beristain of the Truth Commission and Peter Drury Representative of The Colombian Truth Commission in the UK met with Ulster University academics, political representatives, and prominent figures in the Northern Ireland peace process. Dr Beristain attended these meetings virtually since last minute changes in the COVID-19 travel regulations meant that he had to cancel plans to travel to Northern Ireland. This is nothing new, over the COVID epidemic the Truth Commission has had to adopt a variety of strategies to reach out to the victims and survivors of Colombia’s conflict.
Speaking prior to the visit, Professor Brandon Hamber, the John Hume and Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Peace at Ulster University, noted:
“The visit of The Colombian Truth Commission to the City comes at a critical time. Colombia is finalising its Truth Commission Report. Northern Ireland is grappling right now with exactly what to put in place to reckon with the past. There is a lot we can share from our different experiences. This is an important opportunity for us to listen, learn, and act to ensure both Northern Ireland and Colombia effectively deal with the past and create sustainable peace.”
Experiences of Living in Exile:
The exhibition showcases the textiles made by Colombian women who participated in The Truth Commission process in the UK.
Peter Drury of The Colombian Truth Commission said:
“The exercise of producing the arpillera dolls is one of many carried out during the process of the Colombian Truth Commission by victims and survivors of human rights violations and serious breaches of International Humanitarian Law as a means to be able to reveal hidden truths about their experiences. These truths have often been concealed for many years by trauma, anger and fear. The arpillera doll-making exercise has sought to allow the makers of the dolls to project their life experiences into the dolls they have fashioned with thread and needle.”
Speaking about the Con-textualising Memory exhibit, curator, Roberta Bacic of Conflict Textiles said:
“Through textile language participants engaged in a process of touching, exploring, stitching, and sharing their experience of living in exile due to the Colombian conflict. Doing it against the odds, (because we were creating a communal experience via Zoom), we managed closeness, trust building and to make a piece of tangible art that captures the power of expressing what is not possible to say in words.”
Memory & Truth Seminar:
Following the exhibition launch, Dr Carlos M Beristain of The Colombian Truth Commission joined academics in an online seminar, Sharing experiences of memory (Recognition) and truth in post-conflict times: Colombia and Northern Ireland.
During the seminar, the truth and memory of victims’ rights within the context of the Northern Ireland and Colombia’s peace processes were discussed.
The exhibition launch marks International Human Rights Day and coincided with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival 2021 (3 – 10 December 2021).
The exhibition will be on display from 10 December 2021 to 27 January 2022, on the first floor of the library, Block MM (beside Scullery Ciúin).