Film Review: Woven Lives—Contemporary Textiles from Ancient Oaxacan Traditions

This documentary film is a visual feast for the senses that takes us on a sensory journey across Oaxaca, Mexico.  Here we meet the exemplars – the outstanding artists, artisans, and curators who are keeping the weaving traditions alive.  This film captures sense of place, history, culture, and diversity.  It creates a vital thread from past to future, linking the emotional and aesthetic work that goes into the creative process with the economic implications of survival for the art and the culture.

Featured are extraordinary weavers who work on the two-harness floor loom, the back-strap loom, and use fly shuttle weaving.  We learn about the process of cultivating, spinning and weaving silk.  We understand the environmental and sustainable responsibility for using natural dyes, and the importance of finding world markets to sell so that the culture endures.

The film features several of my favorite weavers:  Federico Chavez Sosa, Erasto “Tito” Mendoza Ruiz, and Abigail Mendoza.  It also includes commentary by my friends Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and Janet Chavez Santiago, a linguist and weaver. (Federico’s rugs are available for sale on this web site in the Gallery-Shop Here)

There is so much that this 1:16:19 DVD film by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Carolyn Kallenborn covers in such a relatively short period. And you can choose to watch in English or in Spanish.

We hear the Zapotec language spoken and how its revival is a way to sustain cultural traditions. We appreciate weaving as a community endeavor to support generational continuity.  We learn how designs are created on the tapestry loom extrapolated from archeological stone carving.  We see how the cochineal bug is cultivated on the prickly pear cactus and the chemical oxidation of indigo.  To ground us, life in Oaxaca is interwoven throughout.

We discover how American students can intern with Oaxaca weavers for cultural exchange.  We realize that it takes 20 days to hand spin enough silk to make one shawl and five days to weave it.  We come to value the time and energy it takes to work by hand — to wash, card, spin, dye and weave a quality textile.

Carolyn Kallenborn’s in-depth film is ambitious, comprehensive, and compelling.  It is a must-see for every lover of woven art, every student and teacher who is involved in the creative process, and all who want to know more about Oaxaca and its extraordinary textile traditions.

To order your own personal copy, go to www.wovenlivesoaxaca.com or www.vidaentretejidas.com

Federico Chavez Sosa’s handwoven rugs made with naturally dyed wool are available for sale on this web site. Click on Gallery Shop Here under the photo banner.

Review by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC,  www.oaxacaculture.com

 

 

 

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