Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

India Journal: Tribal Textiles in Bhuj, Gujarat

Finally, I have landed in Bhuj, Gujarat, after hectic days in Ahmedabad followed by three nights at a secluded safari camp, Rann Riders, in the wilds of the Little Rann. This borders the town of Dasada where marsh and salt desert are home to rare wild ass and migratory birds. Internet connection impossible.

Tribal Rabari Toran hangs over door, marks sacred space.

Tribal Rabari Toran hangs over door, marks sacred space.

I have a lot of catch up to do between then and now. For the moment, I’m highlighting some tribal textiles of western India in the state of Gujarat, where I’ve been for the last six days. It’s hot here, over 92 degrees Fahrenheit, with dust clouds everywhere.

Working the pit loom in Bhujodi, a seated flying shuttle version like Oaxaca.

Working the pit loom in Bhujodi, a seated flying shuttle version like Oaxaca.

This area is known as The Kutch (Kuh-ch) and borders Pakistan on the west. The area is populated by nomadic and semi-nomadic herding people who came from Saudi Arabia, the Sindh, and Mongolia. They came with camels, donkeys, sheep, goats and cattle. Some continue their nomadic lifestyle, moving camp each season in search of grazing lands.

Seated Muslim woman, tribal Wandh group

Seated Muslim woman, tribal Maldharis group, the Banni, Kutch

The ethnic mix includes Hindus, Parsi, Ismailis, Muslims and Jews. It is a region of rich religious, cultural and social diversity, and a long tradition of wool and cotton-weaving, fine embroidery, natural dye work and tie-dye. Most women, Muslim or Hindu, wear the bandhani tie-dye head scarf upon marriage, in the language of textiles.

Hand-painted dowry chests, Wandh village

Hand-painted dowry chests, Maldharis village

Many of the artisans and crafts people I’ve met this week have made their mark and participate at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Several, like Jabbar Khatri, attended the 2016 International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca.

Women's ceremonial marriage mask, Wandh community, Bhuj

Women’s ceremonial marriage mask, Maldharis community, Bhuj

Most are friends of Australian Carole Douglas, who has brought small groups of travelers to the region for the last 17 years. Carole recommended that I connect with Kutch Expeditions guide and vintage textile dealer Salim Wazir, who took us to the White Salt Desert known as the Great Rann of Kutch.

A prized cow with Wandh herders, Bhuj, Gujarat

A prized cow with Maldhari herders, Bhuj, Gujarat

To get there, we passed tribal villages of Rabari, Ahir and Jat peoples, stopping along the way to visit a few of the more accomplished artisans. Their embroidery and weaving is distinctive and can be identified by group and sub-group.

Fine vintage textile embroidery example from Salim Wazir

Fine vintage textile embroidery example from Salim Wazir

In the small Maldhari settlement, a group of 43 Muslims live in mud huts with thatched roofs. The men tend cattle and sheep, and collect honey and gum arabic. The women cook, sew and embroider in the Mukko style using metallic threads.

Village elder tells us about her dreams for her family

Wandh village elder tells us about dreams for her grandchildren

Salim explains that the group has lived in this area for over 350 years, migrating from the Sindh, now Pakistan. They prefer mashru cloth, as do all tribal Muslims because the warp is cotton.

Man's beaded ceremonial marriage mask, in mock demonstration.

Man’s beaded ceremonial marriage mask, in mock demonstration.

According to Muslim tradition, they are not allowed to wear silk next to their bodies and mashru is a way to have the luxury without violating the law. (We met a mashru weaver in Buhjodi just a couple of days before, one of the remaining few who make cloth in this tradition.)

Bhujodi mashru weaver Babu Bhai, on flying shuttle pit loom

Bhujodi mashru weaver Babu Bhai, on flying shuttle pit loom

The raised platform floor of the village where the Bungha round houses are situated is hard packed mud, like adobe, soft to walk on barefoot and easy to clean with a broom. The area can flood during monsoon season, becoming a muddy mess, and the tribe then seeks higher ground.

Wandh village round huts. Each serves a family unit.

Maldhari village round huts. Each serves a family unit.

There is nothing for sale here except the exchange of a visit and hospitality. It is a refreshing stop along a tourist route to the Great Rann that is becoming commoditized with synthetics and crudely embroidered or beaded trinkets.

Door latch, secured by a keyed lock

Door latch, secured by a keyed lock

I asked the elders what they dreamed of for their children and grandchildren. A better education, they replied. I am as old as you are, another said to me, and I have not seen the world as you have. They want their children to know what goes on in the world.

Traffic jam on the way to the Great Rann of Kutch

Traffic jam on the way to the Great Rann of Kutch

There is no school here and opportunity is limited. They want the government to build them a school, but there are not enough children to populate it. If there is a health care emergency, they travel 45 minutes by bus or auto rickshaw to Bhuj for services. We have no future, they say, but we must be happy with what we have.

A visit to embroiderer Sofiya Mutwa, Dhordo, The Banni, Kutch

A visit to finest embroiderer Sofiya Mutwa, Dhordo, The Kutch, Gujarat

I ask what I can do to help. Salim and I discuss the downsides of giving money, which corrupts values. He suggests a length of hand-spun cotton that they can use for their embroidery work. They can only afford to buy synthetics and this would be a valued gift. It’s on my shopping list and I will give the fabric to him before I leave to present to the village women.

Sofiya Mutwa demonstrates tiny stitches to secure tiny mirrors to cloth.

Sofiya Mutwa demonstrates tiny stitches to secure tiny mirrors to cloth.

My experience in India is mixed. I have only met open, warm, helpful and friendly people of all faiths and backgrounds. The interaction with them has shaped my experience. Talented NGO representatives work here to support the weaving and needlework talents of many, to keep the traditions alive. I’m grateful for their dedication and energy.

Example of Wandh embroidery work

Example of Maldhari embroidery work, now embellished with commercial bric-a-brac

Yet, there is dust everywhere. Cattle roam the streets and graze on roadside garbage. Tent cities are filled with the impoverished. The crush of cars, auto-rickshaws and the sound of horns honking is a way of life. Intense. Loud. Persistent.

Henna painted hands will wash off. Tatoos on Rabari women are permanent.

Henna painted hands will wash off. Tatoos on Rabari women are permanent.

The food is wonderful and I’m going to bring Indian cooking into my repertoire. I’ve decided to end my visit early and return to the USA five days sooner than planned, to rest, reflect and write more about this experience.

My travel companion, Fay Sims, models heavily embroidered apron.

My travel companion, Fay Sims, models heavily embroidered apron.

I want to end this journey in Bhuj, and not in the big city of Mumbai, so that being in textile heaven will be the last of my India memories.

Typical village scene, India

Typical village scene, Gujarat, India

And, of course, I’m in search of a second piece of luggage to carry all these textiles home.

Sofiya Mutwa embroiders small sampler to become pillow cover

Sofiya Mutwa embroiders small sampler to become pillow cover

Where to Stay:  Bhuj House B&B or Hotel Prince, Bhuj, Gujarat, India

How to Get Here:  Fly from Mumbai to Bhuj on Air India or Jet Airways, less than $100 USD one-way. Travel from Ahmedabad overland by private car/driver on 8 hour journey at cost of 6,000 rupees or about $100 USD one-way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

India Journal: Day One with Nidhi Khurana in New Delhi

It’s Thursday, November 17, almost noon, and I’m half way around the world from where I started from in San Jose, California, recovering from a 22-hour flight across the time zones.

Nidhi Khurana with her saris.

Nidhi Khurana with her saris.

I arrive in India to discover that while in-flight, the government had secretly decided to de-monetize, eliminating 86% of the available cash. Little did I know, and only exchanged the minimum of dollars to rupees at the airport. There is no money in banks or ATMs. We are tethered to our credit cards and those who take them. This is called adventure travel.

Mud resist block printed sari.

Mud resist block printed sari. I want one!

Fortunately, my dear friend, textile artist Nidhi Khurana, who I met in Oaxaca early in 2016, is taking me under her wing along with her friend, textile designer Aditi Prakash, who is the mastermind behind Pure Ghee Designs.  We spent my first day in Delhi immersed in textiles.

Aditi Prakash shows me how to pleat the sari

First, on in Nidhi’s flat, where I got an introduction to the sari and a portion of Nidhi’s collection that was laid out on the bed before me, mostly silks, some woven with gold threads, representing all regions of the country.

It was hard to pick a favorite, and much like playing dress-up.

Do you like this ikat? It was hard to pick a favorite, and much like playing dress-up.

Aditi is an encyclopedia of India’s cloth. She can instantly tell which state or region a textile comes from based on the story woven into the border of each sari. It was all dizzying but the textures and colors sent me to the moon. She explains that that are over 160 different ways to wear the sari. She tells me this as she pleats the ends of the fabric and begins to drape it around me.

Stack of sari fabric, neatly folded and ready for hangers.

Stack of sari fabric, neatly folded, some tie-dyed, embroidered, woven with gold.

I am reminded of how Oaxaca women wear their faldas, their skirts, which are pleated around the waist and then held to their bodies by the woven cinch waistband.  Indian women tuck the ends of their sari’s into the skirt or pants waistband. The intricately woven border, only a portion of the cloth length, is draped over the shoulder so it hangs down the back in full display.

The inside is just as beautiful.

The inside is just as beautiful.

The cloth body and this border are two separately woven pieces that are then woven together to form one length of cloth. It’s important to examine the joinery, since the best saris will combine the two with invisible stitches.

Nidhi picks rocket, chard and dill on her rooftop garden.

Nidhi picks rocket, chard and dill on her rooftop garden.

After Nidhi prepared a vegetarian lunch of steamed rice, cauliflower, peas, fresh salad greens from her rooftop garden, and delicious homemade Indian Gooseberry Pickle (now declared to be my favorite), we set out for Hauz Khas Village to find noted textile collector/gallery owner Sunaina Suneja, also known as Dimple. She is the aunt of Saket B&B owner Anand, a wonderful host.

Sunaina Suneja, known as Dimple, in her textile gallery.

Sunaina Suneja, known as Dimple, in her textile gallery.

Dimple travels the world to show her beautiful textiles, and is noted for her knowledge and use of Khadi cloth and indigo.

Hauz Khas green space surrounded by city

Hauz Khas green space surrounded by city

This is much more than a boutique, gallery shopping destination. It is a 13th century mosque and school in the Indo-Islamic architecture, reminiscent of what I saw in Morocco and at the Alhambra in southern Spain.

The madrasa, school of Islamic learning

Madrasa school of learning, wells and temple

It is from the Mogul invasion of India and offers a park-like oasis in the middle of a city filled with honking cars, dust and a sea of people.

Portrait of Nidhi Khurana at the monument

Portrait of Nidhi Khurana at the monument

Yellow parakeets fly through the keyhole openings of the building. Young couples, groups of friends, families picnic on the grounds. Small gangs of young men huddle in corners to take a smoke. Friends stroll hand-in-hand. There are plenty of places for children to climb, too.

Friends Aditi and Nidhi at Haus Khaz monument.

Friends Aditi and Nidhi at Hauz Khas monument.

I’m grateful that we had this day together and we ended it with a tea respite at one of the local eateries.

Stone carved detail, Hauz Khas Village

Stone carved detail, Hauz Khas Village

Norma Schafer at the monument

Norma Schafer at the monument wearing Oaxaca Amuzgo coat

 

Carrying firewood through Hauz Khas Village

Carrying firewood through Hauz Khas Village

The caste system is legally banned but exists as it does in all countries, based on birth, economic and social status, inability for upward movement. Often it is based on skin color and religion. We are not impervious to it in the United States of America, either.

Water dumplings, hollow and infused with sugar water. None for me.

Water dumplings, hollow and infused with sugar water. None for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Indigo in India: Countdown to Travel

It’s a 24-hour flight from California to New Delhi, not including the layover in Tokyo. I’m getting ready for a month of travel, focused mostly on the India State of Gujarat, with my Canadian friend Fay Sims, leaving San Jose on November 15.

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

My motivation to go to India is multi-fold:

  • to experience first-hand indigo dye history, artisanry and textiles
  • to visit my first cousin, Odissi dancer Sharon Lowen, who has lived in New Delhi, India for 43-years after leaving the USA on a Fulbright


Sharon Lowen’s Odissi Dance in Swarnakamalam…by kasuvandi

  • to embrace my 99-1/2 year old aunt, my mother’s younger sister, who now lives with my cousin
  • to reconnect with friends, textile artist Nidhi Khurana and her painter-muralist husband Ruchin Soni
  • to compare and contrast the textiles of Oaxaca and Gujarat
Eric Chavez Santiago at the indigo dye pot

Eric Chavez Santiago at the indigo dye pot (happy birthday, Eric)

  • to write and photograph the processes and people
  • to get yards of hand-spun cotton Khadi cloth, Ghandi’s symbol of India’s independence from England
  • to discover who knows what else!
Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips

Variations of indigo blue, depending on wool color and number of dye dips

Natural Dye and Textile Study Tour, One-Day in Oaxaca

My friend, master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa, asked me to bring him back a chunk of native India indigo to experiment with. My friend, master weaver Alfredo Hernandez Orozco, asked me to bring him any type of native India fiber to experiment with on his flying shuttle loom. They are innovators.

Indigo blue shirts are first made with natural manta cotton, then get four dye dips.

Oaxaca: indigo blue shirts on natural manta cotton, with four dye dips

I am going with one empty suitcase, the second half-full.

What advice do you have for me on the quest for India textiles with natural dyes in New Delhi, Gujarat state and Mumbai?

Example of indigo block print from India, on cotton and silk cloth.

Indigo block print on cotton and silk, from India

Indigo block print on cotton and silk, from India

 

 

Is Mexico’s Day of the Dead Like Halloween? Muertos Photos in Black and White.

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, 2015. Selenium filter ala Ansel Adams

Day of the Dead altar honoring our Dad, American Federation of Teachers strike for fair wages, 1960’s, Los Angeles. Selenium filter a la Ansel Adams.

We just finished a week of publishing a Day of the Dead Photography Challenge over at the Facebook site I manage, Mexico Travel Photography. You might want to jump over there to take a look at some amazing shots of this spiritual celebration of life and death. Consider joining and participating if you are not already a member.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers.

Preparing the grave with flowers, fruit, nuts and prayers. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.

What everyone loves about Mexico is her vibrant color. Everywhere. Dia de Los Muertos is a celebration of life and death. There is nothing more vibrant than the flowers that adorn altars and grave sites, market life and costumes.

But, this post takes a turn to Black and White Photography.

Four crosses mark this family plot where generations of people are buried 10 years apart.

4 crosses on family plot where generations can be buried 10 years apart. Copper filter.

A friend asked me today, what is Muertos? Is it like Halloween?  My answer is definitely NO … and SORT OF.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Cloth imprinted with Day of the Dead theme for decorating.

Here is my short-version explanation: When the Spanish came to Mexico in 1521, they co-opted an indigenous ancestor worship tradition (Day of the Dead) and overlaid it with All Saints and All Souls Day observations. All Saints’ Day begins with All Hallows Eve, or Halloween with deep Catholic religious and spiritual tradition.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos.

At Amate Books on Alcala, a selection of titles on Muertos, Oaxaca city.

All Souls’ Day commemorates the faithfully departed and is most closely linked to the death and resurrection of Christ.

Skulls in the market. All altars have some form of them.

Skulls in the market. Most altars have some form of them.

The Spanish were very smart conquerors. Rather than obliterating the religious practices of indigenous people, they integrated observances to make conversion much more palatable. It is possible that Muertos was celebrated during another time of year. As with most other rituals, it moved to coincide with a Catholic feast day.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Sitting in mourning and reflection. Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Before the Spanish conquest, Dia de Los Muertos had no link to Halloween. In recent years the US images of pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, black cats and gauzy synthetic cobwebs have migrated across the border as Mexicans born in the USA visit their family in cities and villages throughout the country. We see this blending of commercialism and ancient tradition throughout Oaxaca.

Calavera sculpture, cutting stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

Calavera (skeleton) sculpture, chiseling stone, San Pablo Cultural Center, 2015

I’m editing my photos first using Lightroom, a Photoshop editing tool. Then, I convert these photos to SilverEfex, a free black and white software editing tool now owned by Google. It’s easy to download. You can choose filters, film type and manipulate the histogram if you wish. I’m having fun with it and wanted to share what I’ve done with you.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a fresh gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle.

Flowers in the form of a cross, covering a gravesite. Teotitlan del Valle. Intentional?

In case you are interested it takes me from 2 to 4 hours to make a blog post. This includes selecting and editing the photos and then writing the text (or vice versa!) Thank you for reading and following.

Preparing for Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead is coming soon. Festivities in Oaxaca will begin in the next few days, and people are now gathering what they need for home altars to honor their deceased loved ones:

  • palm branches to create an arch over the altar through which loved ones pass from the otherworld — a gateway to now
  • smokey copal incense that provides the aroma to guide the way
  • candles that burn continuously to offer light along the journey
  • fresh flowers, especially marigolds, a seasonal offering with a pungent aroma to guide the spirits
Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

Dia de los Muertos Altar, San Pablo Villa de Mitla

  • bread, chocolate, fruit and nuts for the spirit visitors to eat
  • favorite beverages of those who have passed on and will return: hot chocolate, beer, mezcal, whiskey, coca-cola, Fanta orange, atole
  • framed photographs of those who have died (it wasn’t until the 70’s or 80’s, I’m told, that most locals had cameras to capture images)

 See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook

 

Oaxaca street parades will start on October 30.

On October 31, the Xoxocotlan panteon (cemetery) will host locals and tourists who come from around the world to experience the reverie and revelry of Muertos. I like to start at the old cemetery around mid-afternoon to be present at the magic hour of sunset.

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

On November 1, there are many cemetery festivities, at San Pablo Villa de Mitla in the morning and in the evening at the Oaxaca city Panteon, and in San Augustin Etla.

On November 2, in Teotitlan del Valle, the low-key ceremonies of honoring the dead begin with a mid-afternoon meal at home to ensure the dead return to their graves with full bellies. The villagers then accompany the spirits to the the cemetery (around 6 p.m. ) and sit with them through the night to be certain they are cared for and rest in peace.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

On November 3, in San Antonino Castillo de Velasco, the flower growing village, holds their Day of the Dead celebrations after they have cut and sold cockscomb, marigolds, lilies and more to surrounding villages and city dwellers.

You might also want to add Santa Maria Atzompa to your itinerary.

Sand paintings, part of the tradition,  Muertos

Sand paintings, part of the tradition, Muertos

These are not created as tourist attractions but exist as part of ancient pre-Hispanic ritual in many parts of Mexico. Oaxaca has one of the most vibrant Day of the Dead celebrations.

Locals and seasoned Oaxaca travelers continue the search for the undiscovered Day of the Dead celebration where few tourists descend. The farther from the city, the more likely this is to occur.

Still life with marigolds, Teotitlan del Valle market

Still life with marigolds, Teotitlan del Valle market

I’m in North Carolina with my friend Hettie, and have with me photos of my parents and copal incense. I’ll start making my memory altar in the next few days. Meanwhile, my Teotitlan del Valle family will light incense and place marigolds at the gate to my home to welcome the spirits and guide them back under the shadow of Picacho.

 See Day of the Dead 5-Day Photo Challenge at Facebook

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

Muertos altar, November 2, 2015, remembering my dad

After I built my altar last year, our 99-1/2 year-old mom took a downward turn and I left Oaxaca for California. She died on November 15, 2016. I return to California next week to join my family to lay the headstone on her grave just before the anniversary of her death, a ritual that is part of my religious tradition.

This year, my altar will hold them both. I will sit and honor their lives.

Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, April 16, 2013

Dorothy Schafitz Beerstein, April 16, 2013