institution: Canadian Museum for Human Rights
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
Background: Freedom of Expression in Latin America
In Latin America, art has often been used to express resistance in the face of repression and violence. Artistic expression can be used by those who refuse to stay silent when free speech is under attack. Art can also bear witness to atrocities committed by oppressive regimes.
Freedom of Expression in Latin America uses compelling works of art, powerful personal accounts, and augmented reality technology to tell the stories of people who have used art to expose truth and motivate action. The exhibit is located within the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) What Are Human Rights? gallery.
Artists defy silence: The arpilleras
During Pinochet’s notorious dictatorship in Chile (1973-1990), groups of women known as arpilleristas created vivid patchwork pictures to condemn and depict the atrocities committed under the regime. The women worked at great risk to make these banned pieces of art. They smuggled their creations abroad as messages of resistance intended to encourage solidarity with the Chilean people.
One of the arpilleras shown in the exhibition is the story of Carmen Gloria Quintana, an 18-year-old student protestor who in 1986 was doused with gasoline by soldiers and set on fire. With the help of Canadian diplomat Christian Labelle, she was flown to Canada for treatment and her family was given refuge. When Labelle saw Quintana again in Ottawa in 2015, almost 30 years later, he gave her two other arpilleras which tell her story, made by a group of women in her neighbourhood in Chile. Quintana currently lives in Montreal.
Stitching Our Struggles AR
Augmented reality technology is used to further explore the story of Quintana being set on fire as a teenaged dissident in Chile, and taken for treatment and refuge in Canada. Visitors use an iPad to hover over the arpillera containing her the first part of her story, which then reveals on-screen images and text about her experiences – including excerpts from CMHR curator interviews conducted in 2016. This feature also provides visitors with exclusive access to two digital artifacts (additional arpilleras) which are not physically present in gallery. These are the two arpilleras which were given to Quintana by Labelle.
When visitors encounter the Stitching Our Struggles AR feature within the exhibition there is a stand containing a set of iPad minis along with descriptive text. Three devices sit untethered in the rack for visitors to easily remove and return.
Inclusive design considerations include captioned text for all media contained within the AR. This AR experience is designed as a primarily visual-based experience, so text-to-speech of the narrative for low-vision or blind visitors is delivered via our Universal Access Points (UAP) through our self-guided tour mobile app. The UAP program is part of the CMHR’s underlying inclusive design infrastructure and was explored in detail as part of a paper from Museums and the Web 2016 (Bahram, 2016).
Using image recognition, visitors are provided the ability to reveal the artifact by ‘pulling’ the arpillera from the display case. By swiping right or left, users revealed the next arpillera in its place. While viewing through the app, the digital artifacts are placed in 3D space as part of the exhibit. By manipulating the device physically, visitors can examine the incredible details of the artistry and reveal more information on the story.
Deployed in-gallery, the screen in portrait orientation runs an attract loop that invites the visitor to pick up the device. Once rotated to landscape orientation, language selection is offered and a 30 second introduction video is played. A transparent image of the arpillera appears along with instructions to point the device at the artefact reveal hotspots that the visitor can click on. The experience was designed to last 2 to 3 minutes.
Extension to Remote Audiences
Along with the in-gallery component, Stitching Our Struggles lends itself well as a takeaway experience and educational asset. Postcard size images of the artefact with instructions on how to download the app for iOS and Android allow visitors to take the experience home with them. A downloadable PDF was also created on our website so that remote audiences can download and print the target image and utilize the app anywhere in the world.
This approach provides the opportunity for the Stitching Our Struggles app to be explored and used for education anywhere in the world. Showcasing how artistic expression can be used by those who refuse to stay silent when free speech is under attack.
This approach also facilitates mitigation of some typical museum in-gallery constraints — label sizes, character counts, along with the physical constraints of environmental artefact design (proximity due to casework, viewing distances, lighting for artefacts, etc.)
To read more about this exhibition:
The Stitching Our Struggles app is available on iOS and Android:
A downloadable PDF of the AR target for colour or black & white printing:
To read more about the UAPs and inclusive design at CMHR: