Story Threads: Creative Readings Exhibition

This exhibition, situated on the Ground Floor of the McClay, celebrates student creativity and the ability to interpret Latin American short stories through textile making.

The course in which students make the textiles seeks to foment an awareness that we live entangled lives, that our choices impact on those individuals and environments far from us, and that literature and textiles have a particular way of speaking these realities. Tatiana Lobo, whose short stories are central to our studies, was Chilean by birth but naturalised Costa Rican. She is one of a growing group of Latin American authors of ecologically-focused literature to come to prominence in the latter part of the 20th century. 

      The choice to incorporate textiles, arpilleras, in the study of Latin American literature originated from a collaboration with curator of the Conflict Textiles collection, Roberta Bacic in 2011. Arpilleras are brightly-coloured appliqué or embroidered pictures stitched onto sack cloth/burlap (arpillera in Spanish). Originally, arpilleras bore witness to the experiences of the oppressed in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s during the totalitarian military regime of General Augusto Pinochet.

      By bringing these textiles into the classroom we seek to create a new space for the student experience, and by so doing provoke a more personal and even communal response than might normally arise in traditional essay assessments. 

      The blend of critical thinking through engagement in eco-critical theory and critical making that results in the final arpillera, encourages the student to develop a new language as they process and communicate their understanding of the text and the personal interaction with core elements of the stories we read and discuss in class. Research shows that creative assessments help students become flexible thinkers & problem-solvers. Sewing can encourage valuable mental health benefits. Slowing down, thinking through the story, working with the materials to create a new language.

      Students are set a scenario in which they have been commissioned to create an arpillera for an exhibition examining how literature can serve as a means of environmental protest. To fulfil the remit their arpillera should reflect their understanding of key elements taken from one of the three short stories and include a written reflection on the process followed in the creation of the work and where they have added their own personal elements to the textile. Work is submitted anonymously and retains anonymity as part of this exhibition.

      A small section of the exhibition highlights the global nature of arpillera narratives by displaying the work of a sewing collective from Santa María de Fe, Paraguay. Based on the site of an old Jesuit reduction, these women sew accounts of their daily lives but also record the repression experienced by the Christian Agrarian Leagues under the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner.

For further discussion on using textiles as assessment, see

Blog written by Dr Fiona Clark. Dr Clark is a Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies at Queen’s University Belfast, the Languages Recruitment Lead, & Level 1 Spanish Convenor.