Book: Weaving Yarn, Weaving Culture, Weaving Lives: A Circle of Women in Miramar, Oaxaca, Mexico; published by Almadia, 2010; photography by Tom Feher, text by Judith Lockhart-Radtke; ISBN: 978-607-411-059-3
Book Review by Norma Hawthorne
Stunning photographs and intimate personal interviews of indigenous Mixtec women weavers accentuate what it means to keep culture, community, and weaving traditions alive in this remote mountain village of Oaxaca, Mexico.
One of my favorite photographs in this book is a close-up of the calloused, gritty soles of a woman’s feet elegantly peeking out from under the hem of a fanciful floral skirt as she sits on her knees. While I only see her feet and hemline, I know she is at work weaving on a back strap loom. It is a sensitive depiction of both the obstacles and the hopefulness of an ancient culture struggling to survive and thrive.
The glorious full-color photography is by Tom Feher and the written narrative is by Judith Lockhart-Radtke. The book is a culmination of almost a decade of work between the volunteer group, The Circle of Women in Boston, MA, and what developed into a self-sustaining cooperative of women weavers in the Alta Mixteca, far from Oaxaca City. The book was published to coincide with an exhibition for the weavers at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca in 2010. It documents and is a beautiful testimony to a cultural interchange that encouraged learning and literacy, economic independence, and access to better health care.
Eleven Mixtec Women Share Their Life Stories in Their Own Words
The charm of this book is in its ethnographic storytelling. Each of the eleven Miramar women who are members of the cooperative are interviewed and share their personal experiences about being a Mixtec woman, a weaver, a wife or mother or daughter. Some are eloquent in describing the experience of their empowerment by learning to read and write. Others poignantly describe the pain of separation and isolation from husbands, sons, and brothers who are, by necessity, working in El Norte and sending money back where there is no work.
Through these visual and written stories we see and hear the struggles of poverty, deprivation, and limited access to health care. We are also clearly reminded of the universality of womanhood: when women support each other through mutuality and connection they have much greater opportunity to thrive, especially in traditional patriarchal cultures where women have always been physically, economically and emotionally dependent. The photographs are powerful, simple, and elegant. They are complete stories in and of themselves.
Text is in both English and Spanish
The layout of this book — left side of the page in English, right side in Spanish — creates a bridge to understanding. The forwards by Ana Paula Fuentes Quintana, the director of the Textile Museum, and famed Mixteca singer-songwriter Lila Downs, add considerable heft to the story. The book is definitely for those with an interest in women’s studies, grassroots organizing, intercultural exchange and the role of the outsider, economic development and sustainability, weaving, textile art and design, and anyone interested in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Effecting change and making a difference in another culture
Judith Lockhart-Radtke, a clinical social worker and writer, gives us an honest and clear account of the risks, rewards, disappointments, and joy for volunteers from other countries who want to make a difference and effect change. Ultimately, she reminds us, the generation of ideas and their implementation must originate from within to take root and have lasting impact.
The addendum, written in 2010, provides a concise summary of the village economy, the community’s approach to income earning and distribution, the ongoing challenges of maintaining a Boston-Oaxaca collaboration and a move to self-sufficiency, and the impediments to bringing these handmade textiles to foreign markets.
For Information and Book Orders – Contact: Judith Lockhart-Radtke, President of The Circle of Women, Boston, MA; firstname.lastname@example.org