Art as an outlet

Caroline Gordon / THE GATEPOST

Marjorie Agosin, a Chilean-American writer and artist, presented her work “Arpilleras” during an in-person discussion hosted by Arts & Ideas in The Forum Sept. 21. 

Agosin has written poetry, literature, novels, and a memoir. She is a professor at Wellesley College. 

She won many awards including a Fulbright Scholarship, the Latino Literature Prize, and a Lifetime Achievement Award given to her by the government of Chile.

She has written over 80 books.

English Professor Jennifer De Leon, who has authored several works of fiction, introduced Agosin. 

“I am so excited to be here in real life. I won’t ask you to mute or anything. I am giddy with excitement that we are here in person. What an amazing event to kick off the year, to our re-entry into our world of teaching, learning, art, and wonder,” De Leon said. 

She added, “I am thrilled to introduce Marjorie Agosin, who is a huge idol of mine. To be able to meet her is a highlight of my career and my life.”  

Agosin said this was her first in-person event since “the world shut down.”

“I am very happy to be here,” she said. 

Agosin is friends with President Cevallos and said it has been “a pleasure working with him.” 

She began by discussing her life in Chile.

“I used to observe the writers in cafes and restaurants to learn,” Agosin said. 

She explained politics were popular in Chile during the ’60s and ’70s and they became “intertwined” with her young adult life. 

Agosin said she was recently discussing the political history of South America with her students. 

“The more I teach, the more I encounter young people who know the partial truth, not the entire truth,” Agosin said. 

She said Chile changed in 1973 because there was a military coup led by an “interesting” general who betrayed the president. 

Agosin said her students did not know the United States was involved with the coup. 

“I am very sad to say that this is an amazing country, but it is also a horrific country,” she said. 

Agosin added, “I don’t want the United States to spread terror. We should spread innovations, medicine, and democracy.”

She touched upon the parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues in the United States.

“The pandemic has been terribly hard for the world, especially for the most underdeveloped and poor countries,” Agosin said. 

She said during dictatorships, the world “becomes silent.”

Agosin noted the parallels between the Talbian and the Chilean dictatorship. 

She explained before the Chilean coup, her father was a professor. She said it was difficult for him to work with students from both the left and right sides. 

Agosin said in 1973 “the world Chile knew was gone,” but as people started to disappear, art emerged. 

Agosin discussed how revolutions start, noting George Floyd’s death as the catalyst for Black Lives Matter. 

“Revolutions start with five or six people who want to create a movement,” she said. 

Agosin explained that younger people, union workers, and leaders fled Chile during the coup. In response, groups of women turned to the Catholic church and decided to use creativity as an outlet. 

One of the women decided to make tapestries to cope with the terrible living conditions. 

“The women made something beautiful and something sorrowful,” Agosin said.

She said there was a group of 14 women who made tapestries and searched for the missing. 

“What is so humbling is this group of art is made of very precarious material. The materials were the materials of poverty. I believe these women contributed to overthrowing the dictatorship,” Agosin said. 

She explained how the tapestries can symbolize many different aspects of human culture, such as service and education, abortion rights, and justice. 

Agosin touched upon how using tapestries as a way to tell stories dates back to Greek mythology. 

Lavinia, a popular figure in Greek mythology, was brutally raped. Her perpetrators ripped out her tongue so she couldn’t speak of it. 

She created a tapestry to tell the story of her rape. 

Agosin said when she was in graduate school, the topic of tapestries as a form of expression was not well known. But, she said there are now thousands of dissertations on tapestries and their importance to story telling. 

She said, “You have to go where your heart pulls you. To me, as a poet and scholar, these [tapestries] are important work because they touch the heart and engage the mind.”