The beginning of Weaving Stories, Weaving Lives...
Running from February 18 to April 7, 2013, Weaving Stories, Weaving Lives: Maya Textiles from Guatemala and New Bedford is a new exhibit at the New Bedford Whaling Museum that was curated by two second-year public humanities students: Anna Ghublikian and María Quintero. The show was expanded from an earlier installation on display at the public humanities center in 2012. Continuing last year’s themes, the exhibit showcases decades-old garments from Guatemala and contemporary textiles made in New Bedford on traditional back-strap looms.
Anna and María were originally inspired to create an exhibition while cataloguing a collection of Maya garments donated to the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Margot Blum Schevill, a Brown alumna and anthropologist, acquired this collection while researching in Guatemala. These textiles are visual records of both personal expression and the stories told by families and communities. Thus, the artistic and social practice of Maya weaving reflects both tradition and contemporary expression.
With Brown University student Alexander Crane and members of the New Bedford weaving collective Oxib’ B’atz’, María and Anna coordinated a show last year in the Carriage House Gallery of the Brown Center for Public Humanities. This new version of the exhibit brings the work and artistry of weavers to a larger audience in New Bedford.
Personal experience with the exhibit expansion
Of course, most of this information comes to me second hand. As a first year in the Public Humanities program, I was not present during the first iteration of the exhibit at the Brown Center for Public Humanities. However, I and the other first years involved in the exhibit this year have enjoyed the opportunity to hone our skills in programming, publicity, exhibit production, and project management while learning more about New Bedford, Guatemalan history, and Maya weaving. Personally, it felt overwhelming to enter this project halfway through its creation, but with our combined efforts, we rose to the challenge of limited prior knowledge and experience.
I don’t have the space to describe each task, but the programming done for the exhibit exemplifies our priorities. We wanted to express the importance of Maya weaving for visitors through the various programs. Our youth programming focused on taking advantage of school vacation week, which coincided with our soft-opening. Students practiced paper weaving and learned about the different garments and images in the exhibit through the creation of paper dolls. For the public opening on March 2, we invited local Maya weavers to demonstrate the use of the back-strap loom, creating a work like those on the walls of the gallery. This demonstration was meant to show the vitality and continuing importance of the practice of Maya weaving today in New Bedford.
As a whole, our primary concern was to ensure that local Maya and Guatemalan communities feel welcome at the museum, now and in the future. One way we expressed this was to publicize, to as many people as possible, the waiver of the museum admissions fee for New Bedford residents during the duration of the exhibit (due to a grant from the local BayCoast Bank). Some might not see the New Bedford Whaling Museum as a logical home for an exhibit on Maya textiles, but since the city is home to a growing number of people of Guatemalan descent and the museum itself is an important cultural resource for the city as a whole, Maya textile work is well suited to a gallery display in this space.
At the time of writing, we do not know what the long term consequences of this exhibit will be for local communities or for the museum, but we feel satisfied that we have worked hard to do justice to the amazing work of these weavers, named and unnamed, from New Bedford and Guatemala. At the same time, together we have made the first step in creating what will hopefully be an ongoing relationship between the New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford residents of Guatemalan descent, and interested students in the Public Humanities program.
Written by Abigail Ettelman
Anna Ghublikian and María Quintero (co-curators)