Museo Textil de Oaxaca

Museo Textil de Oaxaca

We met with Salvador Maldonado Paz from the Museo Textil de Oaxaca which summed up the whole trip to Mexico nicely. He was able to talk us through the work they are doing to preserve and exhibit textiles, raise awareness about ancient techniques and importantly teach new generations some of the skills.

He explained how they began and abou the early work they did in presenting exhibitions to raise awareness and promote different craftspeople all over Oaxaca.

They raise awareness through projects so people from all sorts of areas can learn and exchange ideas and skills.

The museum have a shop where they sell collections from weavers all over Oaxaca. They have to evaluate the cloth, workmanship, finishes, materials and threads so as to pick the very best quality and have a whole thread library as a resource.

We learned some interesting facts about the history of weaving both before and after the Spanish conquest and about the evolution of embroidery through European and other influences that have and continue to tell stories which make history through thread. One interesting fact is that before needles they would use the point of a cactus. It was great to hear more about the stories that make up the parts of the community and families and history within.

Today, they have over 6000 fabrics and textiles collected from all over the world and are continuing to bring awareness to weaving communities and their workmanship all over Mexico.

Another objective of the museum is to bring awareness to the entire process of textile cloth so people can appreciate and value the workmanship by giving weekly workshops and demonstrations of the entire process from dyeing the thread to weaving whole piece and all the steps in between. They have taught lawyers, doctors, teachers, housewife’s, children and a growing number of people from all over the world as well as within Mexico.

When we asked whether Salvador thought some of the important traditions are being lost he replied that the world is constantly changing so the hands of the craftspeople must change with it, change is constantly evolving like the pages of a book and that nothing should stay still.

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We finished with a private view of their current exhibition called Syrup and Wine, Needle and Thread, which demonstrates the history use of fibres from the agave cactus. Mexico is the country with the greatest number of agaves and Oaxaca is the region with the highest diversity of species. The earliest known textiles to date from Mesoamerica were made with agave fibre with the earliest found around 10,000 years ago. The living traces of old spoken words for the agave have proven that this was used at least 4,000 years before our era and that the art of weaving first relied on this ancient fibre before cotton. The exhibition includes bags and shoes woven from agave, an age old tradition still used today in many rural communities.

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The team!

The team!

I thought I better post a picture of the people behind this project . On the left is Rosie, our translator. She lives in Oaxaca and has just started her own business as carpenter. And in the middle is Bianca, an anthropologist from São Paulo, Brazil who is interested in women’s rights and doing a doctorate on embroidery. She has been a great help in helping to guide the questions in our interviews. It’s been such a journey, I’m going to miss these two!

Vida Nueva

Vida Nueva

It was kind of fitting that we returned Teotitlan del Valle again today which brought us full circle on this journey to Mexico with the first interview being just across the street. Before our meeting with the women’s cooperative, Vida Nueva, we sat drinking coffee, thinking about what an incredible journey it had been, the people we had met and how much had been learned along the way.

At the back of the coffee shop was a hive of activity as the whole family seemed to be preparing for a celebration which turned out to be a wedding this coming weekend. The man explained that they will spend 4 days preparing the feast, just as someone walked past with two upside down turkeys under his arm, feathers and all. All hands were on deck as they prepared the cocoa beans, one person roasting them, the grandmother turning them over, someone else peeling and so forth, it was quite amazing to watch. Another small insight into the powerful close knit community over here.

We also managed to drop in on the very first person we interviewed across they street, Matea, who had given us our first insight into a woman weaver way of life. In sharp contrast to the first time we walked into her shop she greeted us like old friends and it was nice to present her with one of the Welsh tea towels as a gift of thanks from WCMT.

imageOn to the final interview of the past two weeks with Pastora Gutierrez Reyes, one of the 8 women who form the collective – Vida Nueva (new life).
Although we have visited other weaving cooperatives run solely by women, we were keen to to talk to Vida Nueva to gain another different perspective and because of their admirable core philosophy and inspirational story in helping women from all sorts of backgrounds.
Vida nueva are a group of Zapotec women from Teotitlan del Valle. There are 8 members altogether, some of who are widows, single or unmarried women. Through their cooperative which they formed 20 years ago they are able to support each other in their daily struggles and challenges and share ideas and techniques with the aim of crafting economic and artistic opportunities for Zapotec women.
Historically only men were permitted to weave but in the past 55 years women have been able to share in this rich heritage. Pastora talked about the difficulty in gaining equal respect and recognition as women, which is why they formed the cooperative in 1996. She explained about the criticism they received and how strong they have had to be in standing up for themselves especially as they are completely self built with no help from the government or (as other cooperatives have been) supported or helped along by the church.

Through travelling to Mexico City to sell their work, the women came across a woman’s rights organisation who gave them opportunities to do workshops in organisation and business.

Their mission is to create economic opportunities for women by serving their community and preserving their Zapotec heritage.
Pastora talked about how much they have learned along the way and about the exploitation they have suffered in the past by their distributors which is why they work together and now sell direct to their customers which gives them full autonomy. Every piece of work has a label telling you a little about the woman who wove it. Each of the women gets 100% of the sale for their work and then they all contribute once a month to the cooperative. Some of the proceeds go towards helping women in the community through workshops on topics such as domestic violence, traditional medicine, health care and weaving techniques. They also have created a variety of projects such as stoves for women, toys for children and ‘planting new life’ – a reforesting project to replant an area of Pueblo with 400 native plants and trees. They are also currently working on a project to build compost toilets for families in this area as there are no facilities, which means local rivers have become polluted.

image 8 years ago they started a project to help revive natural dyes since much of the ancestral knowledge has been left behind with the introduction of chemical dyes. Their work has led to a great resurgence in natural dyes and they have had students from all over coming to learn from them which is very promising. Vida Nuevas work is made using 100% wool and only natural dyes such as indigo, walnuts, flowers and the cochineal bug which produces a brilliant red, amongst many others.

Pastora then talked about the weight of women’s work, with a great amount of daily duties in addition to the weaving. They work in the field, talk care of the children, make tortillas, prepare meals, wash clothes, shop at the market, and carry out religious duties and community responsibilities. The responsibility is great and the women here lead a hard life which is why it is so important to be able to earn a living from their weaving work.

Each tapete contains the inspiration of the Zapoteca woman who wove it. The work itself is exceptional and full of individuality.
Before the Spanish conquest, their Zapotec ancestors created designs representing the wind, rain, sun, the moon, the stars, the animal world and many, many more. They carved the designs into to the stone of buildings and wove them into tapestries. Symbols of love, life and death. A bird stands for Liberty, the Greek keys represent protection, continuity, strength, grandeur and power. Each rug tells a story. Pastora showed us how they weave symbols of rain and life’s path with different colours for the ups and downs we experience along the way. They weave the beauty of their heritage into their weaving.
Each one will take months or more depending on its size and complexity of the design. She showed us her own most recent work which is personal to her, so full of deep meaning and feminine wisdom. We weren’t allowed to take photos of it but I did take a photo of one the traditional designs. The meaning behind the pattern is called Ono de Dias, (eye of God).image

The centre of each figure includes two triangles that look like a butterfly which represents freedom. Then the diamond around each butterfly signifies the community, the power of the Pueblo and the strength of its people and the border represents the two figures within.

This meeting was a such powerful way to end this incredible journey which has evolved to be just as much about the independence and equal rights of women who are crafting a new world as much as the primary reasons of bringing awareness to ancient craft techniques and to investigate how those techniques are being transferred to modern day practise. I have learned so much about women’s strength and power out here. We have met some extraordinary men and women along the way and made deep connections through the research and learned about ways of life, their deepest wishes for their children and for the future of their work which is still being passed on centuries later. At the beginning of the trip I had no idea how deeply rooted my passion is to understand these ways of life and do my part in keeping handcrafts alive and also what it means to be able to earn a living from objects of your own creation. I want to thank the WCMT for granting me this opportunity to learn and inspire new ways to bring this knowledge forward and help bring more value to traditional crafts.

I will be sad to leave Mexico tomorrow where so much knowledge and creativity exists. The last stop before home is a stopover for the day in Miami to visit my uncle which no doubt will be a shocking contrast to the past month! Then I will be going home for a month to write everything up before part 2 of my trip in Japan at the beginning of March. More soon!

 

 

San Sebastián de Rio Hondo

San Sebastián de Rio Hondo

After the awe inspiring visit to Khadi we went down the hill to meet Anisha to thank her for creating the link and introducing us. She was busy with a group of volunteers who are helping with the community project of building a school amongst many others. She showed us round the community gardens which is so beautifully created and the school which is a wooden building with surrounding edible garden and chickens and a new goat.

The whole project is so inspiring which is why I had to post an extra picture to try and show the beauty of the place. The volunteers come from all over the world and one of them happened to be from Cardiff, he was spending this month in San. Sebastian before travelling to the North Pole. Amazing who you meet on the journey through life!

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Khadi Oaxaca

Khadi Oaxaca

The meeting today was amazing.

This connection had all come about because a friend, of a friend … of a friend …had heard about the project I am doing so had passed on my info to Marcos who is the creator of ‘Khadi Oaxaca’

Unfortunately as they are so busy with a show on the day we could fit in a visit, Marcos wasn’t able to meet in person, although I am hoping we can have a meeting via Skype as I would love to find out more about his story and vision. Before arriving this was all the info I had (hence why I was so determined to find a way to get to see them!, which ended up having to negotiate taxis and random bus rides in the back of cargo trucks to even get up there).

We live in a small village working with over 200 woman spinning and weaving in the spirit of Mahatma Ghandi’s ideal of cottage industry.
We create sacred weaving’s of wearable cloth. We would be honored to share with you our work and vision”

On arrival in the village there was an overwhelming distinct beauty about the place, lots of lush forrest, flowers and greenery . We had to navigate down steep little roads and finally arrived at our destination which was a stunningly beautiful little cottage  tucked into the mountain with views looking over the mountains which is actually Marcos house. We were greeted by Elisio, one of the people working for Khadi and he told us a little more information about the business and how it was through travelling to India that had given Marcos the inspiration to begin the business.

In India, Khadi is not just a cloth, it is a whole movement started by Gandhi. The Khadi movement promoted an ideology, an idea that Indians could be self-reliant on cotton and be free from the high priced goods and clothes which the British were selling to them. The British would buy cotton from India at cheap prices and export them to Britain where they were woven to make clothes. These clothes were then brought back to India to be sold at hefty prices. The khadi movement aimed at boycotting foreign goods including cotton and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India’s economy. Mahatma Gandhi began promoting the spinning of khādī for rural self-employment and self-reliance.

Marcos asked local carpenters to replicate the Gandhi spinning wheel from a photograph and Elisio was one of the people he showed how to use it. Five years later and they now employ weavers all over the village to work from home.

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We got a demonstration of how they make  the thread all the way from beginning with separating the cotton from the seed, carding, rolling and then the pure magic of spinning it into thread. He also explained that the cotton they use is pure and organic and completely free from chemicals.

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image.jpegThe next part was down in the workshop where there was big pots boiling away, the cotton is boiled for an hour with natural dyeing materials like bark or flowers and then hung out to dry. Then finally he showed us the peddle looms where the cotton thread is woven into lengths of pure cotton fabric.

It was truly incredible seeing this whole process come to life from start to finish, here on the side of a mountain in Mexico.

Elisio showed us some of the finished items which are beautiful, some of them have embroidery over the woven cloth and he explained that there are people employed all over the village who do the embroidery from home and if we wanted we could visit a few of them. We walked up and around paths and got to see a bit more of this amazing village and met a lady working on embroidering an eagle one of the huipils.

Then another walk through the land (everyone seemed to be connected through small paths) we were introduced to another lady who sat weaving with a traditional back strap loom. She told us she is 84 and has been weaving her whole life. When we asked if we could take a photo, she declined saying she had never had photos taken of her, I wanted to say how beautiful she looked with red ribbons plaited into her long black hair but I just smiled at her instead. It was so peaceful watching her work away, so content with her handwork. Valuing this way of life is what this is all about.

Facebook/khaditextiles.com

 

San José del Pacífico

San José del Pacífico

A 3 hour bus journey from Masunte brought us to the misty mountains of San José del Pacífico where we will stay (in an amazing log cabin!) ready for our trip into the village of San Sebastián tomorrow. We are around 2,500 above sea level and the village is almost permanently enveloped in mist, but on clear days you can actually see the Pacific Ocean. The winding journey to get up there meant we literally were driving along cliffs most of the way which if you look down is pretty alarming, so it felt good to finally put our feet on the ground and reach our cabin just in time to catch the beautiful sunset.

Looking forward to tomorrow when we will visit Khadi Textiles in a village called San Sebastián Tutla About 40 minutes away. Here is some info about them..

We are working with 100 indigenous women in a small village of Oaxaca, Mexico, spinning organic cotton on the Gandhi wheel, replicated by local carpenters. Excited!

Masunte beach

Masunte beach

Now off to the coast to spend the weekend and some much needed down time to process all the information throughout this busy week… I feel like we have gained some real insight this week into the Chiapotec ways of life and need to spend some serious time writing up! It will take another overnight journey to get to Masunte and then we will get ready to head to the mountains to visit another weaving cooperative before heading back to Oaxaca to meet with the director at the Museo of Textiles on Tuesday.