LookOut! exhibits focus on human rights

November 3 through Friday, November 21, the RCAH LookOut! Art Gallery is hosting two collections focused on social justice. “Tapestry as Testimony: Arpilleras of Chile,” collected by Isabel Letelier documents human rights violations that occurred in Chile during the military coup that started in 1973. “Broken,” by artists Sally Thielen and Susan Clinthorne, addresses human trafficking.

“They’re not directly connected except in terms of the over-arching idea of social justice,” Loeb said. “Each one of them works very differently. In the arpilleras, we’re looking at historical works that were made in the past, but also they’re about important events in the history of Chile,” Loeb said. “I think people will learn about those, but also be struck by the way that art can serve both as a kind of embodiment of a community of solidarity, it’s another form of collaboration.”

Eliana Loveluck is a social worker who helped Letelier on the project. She visited the RCAH last week for the exhibit opening and explained some of the background of the arpilleras. According to Loveluck, the arpilleras were created by groups of women who wanted to tell the story of Chile under the dictatorship. During the dictatorship, the arpilleras were either smuggled out of the country and sold or bought illegally inside Chile. Loveluck said to be caught with one on your person almost certainly meant getting arrested.

Loeb said she first heard of the arpilleras through RCAH professor Donna Kaplowitz.

“It’s a piece of history US foreign policy and Latin American history that’s really close to my heart. It’s absolutely thrilling to have been able to bring this to us,” Kaplowitz said, adding that she worked with Letelier and Loveluck in Washington, D.C. after she graduated from college and that her father, an astronomer, had been studying in Chile the week before the military coup in September 1973.

Kaplowitz said she’s been working with MSU’s 60/50 Project and thought the arpilleras exhibit would be a good fit because of the way it addresses international human rights issues.

“It’s so perfect because it’s a combination of art and politics. It’s using art to tell a message that could not be told in any other way. People could not criticize the government under the dictator, so they had to find another way to get their stories out,” Kaplowitz said.

During her visit, Loveluck also spoke in two of Kaplowitz’s classes.

Molly Schultz, RCAH sophomore, said it was helpful to hear Loveluck talk about the context for the arpilleras before seeing the exhibits.

“I was able to know the meanings behind some of them and how they’re made. They’re just so full of information and full of life stories, really,” Schultz said. “They’re great works of art so I think a lot of people in this college appreciate art. And they’re a different form of art than what most people are used to.”

RCAH freshman Maris Reid said she thought setup of the Gallery was interesting. The arpilleras line the east and west end of the Gallery, while “Broken” is in the center.

“Having to walk through … the messages were both very dark, so I thought it was kind of creepy, to be honest,” she said, adding that the contrast between the arpilleras’ dark subjects and the colorful tapestries was striking. “I thought they were really cool. I didn’t know what to expect going in there. If you didn’t know going in, you’d have no idea what they were. How the colors are so bright, it seems like it would be a positive story, but the message is so dark and depressing. I enjoyed it a lot because of the chronological story being told through the art.”

The other exhibit, “Broken” draws attention to human trafficking problems. Complete with mannequins, dolls in cages, and statistics, “Broken” is a very different experience.

“Broken operates differently to draw people’s attention to a subject that’s just beginning to receive a wider focus and that people are just beginning to be more aware of. It’s a very hard-hitting exhibit,” Loeb said.

Artists Susan Clinthorne and Sally Thielen first got the idea to create a work that addressed human trafficking during a trip to Bali in 2000. Clinthorne said they had seen a child who was a victim of human trafficking, and the experience had a big impact on them.

“We don’t really want to tell people how to feel. We just try to give them the facts, which are that people are in bondage and that it’s all over the world,” Clinthorne said. “There are so many different kinds of bondage, rather than physical, there are the other things … the bondage of fear, low self-esteem, intimidation, addiction, different kinds of bondage cultural, so many things.”

“We use mannequins, and they’re pink and silver. We don’t want to accuse any race or group or country – it’s everywhere,” Clinthorne said. “We tie it together with things that make it look appealing, with the chains, red and black throughout. If it’s too icky, people don’t want to look. They have to discover that part for themselves without it being in their face.”

Clinthorne says she hopes the exhibit inspires people to fight trafficking. She says penalties for traffickers should be increased and victims need a truly safe place to go to recover.

“The most basic thing is to volunteer in shelters and be aware,” she said. “I think we could stop it if the public really became aware of it.” 


Story by RCAH student Kelsey Block. Images by Katie Wittenauer.