International Folk Artists
Preserve Cultures and Create Opportunities
The largest event of its kind in the world, International Folk Art Market | Santa Fe, brings almost 200 artists from over 60 countries come together to offer handmade masterworks. Here are seven of the extraordinary stories behind the extraordinary art.
Rangina helped the families to revive traditional embroidery, a cultural heritage almost lost in the days of the Taliban. Afghans for a Civil Society became a way for women to safely support their families while at the same time satisfying deep and long-repressed creativity. “This work is a way for the women of Kandahar, once so marginalized, to engage once again with that world,” says Rangina. The embroidery—fine-needle, exquisitely detailed work known as khamak, featuring rich colors and elaborate designs—provides income for the artists and is helping to fund literacy, health care, and grassroots political training for many women. Rangina was awarded the CNN Heroes in 2007. Her father was the Mayor of Kandahar and was murdered in 2011. Rangina now splits her time between Kandahar and Virgina and was recently accepted to Harvard Business School.
“I realized that this was an opportunity not just for women to earn money, it was an opportunity to build peace,” says Janet. “It was a chance to help heal the wounds from the genocide and war. It did not matter if one woman’s husband had killed another’s. I said, ‘Don’t we breathe the same air? Speak the same language? Don’t we all love our children? Let us just weave and try to put the past behind us.” Over two decades after the Rwandan genocide, women of the formerly warring Hutu and Tutsi tribes are sitting down together to weave baskets for the Gahaya Links collective. “[It’s] really amazing to see how a small piece of work, how culture can restore values in people, how healing comes through a small basket,” said Janet Nkubana.
In recognition of her work, Janet won the Hunger Project’s 2008 Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger. Today, Gahaya Links has close to 4,000 weavers whose art is helping them earn an income and rebuild lives. Artists from Gahaya Links have participated in Mentor to Market training programs and were featured in the Empowering Women exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art in 2010.
Janet returns to the Market with Gahaya Links’ signature “peace baskets.” These exquisite baskets are featured in collections worldwide, including MoMA’s. Coming out of the weaving traditions, Gahaya Links will also bring a new collection of earrings made by women with AIDS, enabling them to make a sustainable living from their traditional artwork.
Textiles in the Andes are an important social and ethnic marker and a significant part of the cultural patrimony. Each community uses a different combination of designs and colors that reflect their connection with the earth through agriculture, cosmology, and other aspects of nature.
Founder and director of Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco, CTTC, Nilda Callañaupa is internationally known as a textile scholar, lecturer and author of two books on Andean weaving traditions. She was born in Chinchero Village near Cusco, Peru where she is a beloved cultural warrior whose artistry and advocacy have knit new meaning into the lives of the CTTC ‘s 600 weavers.
“If there were to be a Nobel Prize for Culture,” said Wade Davis, of the National Geographic Society, “Nilda Callañaupa would deserve to have it. She has done more to revitalize traditional textiles in the southern Andes than anyone.” The work of the Center is not just to preserve and to study Peruvian textiles, their symbolism and significance, but also to assist families to create a larger market for their textiles and a new economy for their communities.
Nilda speaks fluent English and is a wonderful interview. CTTC also offers classes and tourist opportunities in Cusco.
In a story in Hand/Eye magazine, Karen Gibbs writes, “An experienced traveler and textile enthusiast recently said of Aboubakar Fofana, ‘One look in his eyes tells you he is an old soul.’ The same can be said of his methods.”
A master artist, Fofana keeps alive the traditional practice of indigo dyeing that dates back to the 11th century in Mali. He has worked for years in Africa, France, Japan, and Great Britain to preserve the ancient dyeing techniques he uses for his sublime textiles. Elders first taught Fofana about indigo, igniting a passion for the techniques as well as for reviving the growth of biological indigo and organic cotton in West Africa. Fofana and his team of artisans spin and weave their cotton and linen by hand, then dye the fabric and sew each piece by hand.
Rug Hookers draws inspiration from traditional Mayan designs, taking recycled material and turning it into hooked rugs. This is a new art form in the long-standing Mayan tradition of textiles. The cooperative’s mission is for Mayan women to make a sustainable living from their art and to preserve the history and traditions of the Mayan culture. Over 50 women throughout the Guatemalan highlands are part of this rug hooking cooperative, each one using unique designs to represent their ancestry, heritage, and community traditions.
To make the rugs, the women buy used clothing at local pacas, either free-standing stores or itinerant vendors. The big bales of discarded T-shirts, sweatshirts and other clothing is usually sent from the United States. By reusing the recycled materials, they save a lot on their costs for making the rugs. And cotton fabrics are a lot cheaper than more traditional wool. It takes about 2 pounds of used clothing to make a 2-foot by 5-foot rug.
With the profits from the rug sales at the 2015 Market, the women, who live in rural communities where the average daily wage is less than $6, were able to replace the ragged cloth covering their windows with glass and iron bars. One installed a flush toilet. Another was able to bring a water pipe to her kitchen and buy a cast-concrete sink called a pila, which she can use to wash the family’s clothing.
Veomanee Douangdala learned weaving at the age of 8, by helping her mother weave the easy parts of patterns for woven textiles used in daily life. She also learned natural dye skills from her mother, a well-respected weaver known for her knowledge of natural dyes.
In 2000, Duangdala co-founded Ock Pop Tok. Ock Pop Tok’s Living Crafts Centre, an innovative textile gallery and workshop in Luang Prabang, provides sustainable employment to 400 artisans throughout Laos.
The name, Ock Pop Tok, translates as “East Meets West.” It reflects the successful partnership of Veomanee and Joanna and the broader meeting and sharing of ideas, designs and knowledge that the work embodies so beautifully. In just over a decade, Ock Pop Tok has grown from a one-room weaving studio for local weavers to an internationally recognized heritage destination, gallery, retreat center and women’s weaving collaborative of over 800 artisans from throughout the country.
Edilsa is a master weaver and a member of the Wounaan culture of the Darién Rainforest in Panama’s Darién National Park. Wounaan women have been weaving Hösig Di utlitarian baskets for centuries, developing highly evolved skills that rank their baskets among the best in the world. Most Wounaan weavers pick up the sewing needle at an early age at their aunts’ or mothers’ knees. Only the most supple emerging fronds from the top of the sacred black palm tree are harvested for this fine work. Hösig Di baskets have become increasingly complex with basket makers integrating geometric, floral, and faunal designs inspired by the surrounding rainforest. Some of these pieces take over a year to make.
Development, drug trafficking and cattle have threatened the Darien Rainforest and the Panamanian government’s longtime repression of the Wounaan’s legal rights to indigenous lands has been an ongoing struggle. Wounaan basket makers, however, are using their traditional art to declare a powerful indigenous identity and basket sales have been central to financing the Wounaan people’s fight for land rights. In 2012 two of the twelve Wounaan communities that occupy the Darien Rainforest became the first to receive legal land titles.