I live by the mantra “everything is personal” so writing about living with folk art is simply a description of my own life´s journey. Let’s start from the beginning, I was born in Colombia and grew up in a family that valued the handmade in all its forms: food was grown in the countryside farm, cooked at home using traditional tools such as gigantic hand-hammered copper bowls and wooden spoons that were the real secret behind the dulce de leche that smelled of Christmas since the first days of December in the hands of the matriarch of the family.
Then there was my mother, the youngest, a rebel, and an empirical artist. She made all of our clothes including polka dot bikinis and Halloween customs. This was a time when all of our friends had barbies and neon clothing was the trend. Sustainability, recycling, and entrepreneurship were all terms I learned when I went to Brown University in the nineties. They were all fancy terms to what had been my natural upbringing.
After Brown, I went back to Colombia and tried to write about all of the accumulated nostalgia to find that nobody was really interested. They wanted me to write about lofts in New York and things that they imagined were “cool” on the other side. I am a Capricorn, stubborn and determined, so I started to write and photograph rural spaces, gypsies making copper bowls, basket weavers, ceramic artists…. And found interest in international publications such as Elle Decoration UK, House, and Leisure, Departures, etc. who started publishing my work and my “weird interests”. I became obsessed with discovering, learning, touching, and photographing. Collecting happened by default because a lot of products had to be commissioned as many artisans were new migrants to cities or simply had sold their best pieces out of lack of interest and embracing this new world of Nike t-shirts and shoes that symbolized progress in the nineties.
Writing and photographing became my way of life but there was something missing: if artisans did not sell, they would not continue. With the help of Donna Karan, I launched SUREvolution and moved to New York in 2005 with the idea of starting one of the first South American luxury brands and a platform merging luxury and the handmade while helping towards the preservation of heritage and developing a sustainable business model for the artisans involved. The idea was to present an option different from the souvenir market or the maquila, making repetitive work for others. This was the first time a Maku basket from the Amazon was present on the windows of Madison Avenue.
I remember the experience of going to the Sikuani village in Los Llanos, to pick up a series of ritual stools commissioned specially for Donna Karan. One of the artisans came up to me on the final day and said ¨why do you need so many chairs, don´t they have chairs in New York?”. This sentence sums my life purpose and journey up! In 2010 on a trip to the south of China, I discovered and fell in love with mud silk, a textile carrying 2500 years of tradition, involved with every nuance in climate and nature. The process behind mud silk, uses the juice of dioscorea tuberosum, a unique indigenous medicinal plant, which is rich in tannins and makes the fabric stronger to be later coated with mud from the Pearl River. The traces of the tannins and irons from the root and the mud, have inhibitory effects against bacteria and viruses, which are beneficial to human skin, an effect similar to using a good face cream. In 2009, I started Noir Handmade, paying homage to mud silk in ancestral shapes, no sizes, reversible pieces presented as special limited editions.
Physically the fabric gets two sides: a glossy black face and a matte orange-brown reverse. The black side has a thin, dark, resin-like film on its surface that has water-resistant properties and is durable and easy to care for. Now during the lockdown, I am currently in Colombia at my family home where I am reminded of why I love my work, why I do what I do and why I chose this lifestyle and journey. I look around and see every object and every texture and my heart feels with joy, memories, and possibilities.