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- Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
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Lower Price, Return to Teotitlan del Valle: 2018 Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat with Gentle Yoga
Marta Turok Wallace is a noted applied cultural anthropologist whose specialty is Mexican textiles. A resident of Mexico City with roots in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, (her parents were ex-pats), Marta was invited by program chair Judy Newland to speak at the WARP (Weaving a Real Peace) textile conference held in Oaxaca, June 8-11, 2017.
More than 70 people attended the conference. They came from Mexico, the USA, Canada, Poland and Russia.
What Marta talks about concerns all of us who love indigenous textiles and appreciate the people — women and men — who make them. She asks questions, makes observations, offers solutions and consultation. Then she steps back and listens, suggests, guides. She affirms that weavers can create their own destiny, their own future for themselves, their families and their communities. And, that consumers can more fully appreciate the history behind the cloth.
Traditions are powerful in Mexico. Remote villages throughout Oaxaca continue to weave garments using distinctive iconographic designs particular to place. These weavings are rooted in centuries past, worn by grandparents and great-grandparents. There are garments for daily wear and special ceremonial occasions.
Clothing is cultural identity in Mexico. It signifies where you are from and your status in the community.
Yet, over time, clothing has changed (think cotton to synthetic threads, hand-spun to machine-spun) based on cost of raw materials, time to make, and influence of current fashion trends in the larger culture. This has an impact on style, design and quality. As villages interact with each other because of communication and ease of transportation, there is design-crossover, too.
What is “pure” or “authentic” is no longer relevant, perhaps. Change happens and it is impossible to keep people in a box doing what they have always been doing to satisfy collectors and appreciators of tradition. What we want to do is encourage innovation, collaboration, independence and economic success.
Marta showed a slide explaining that there is a 50% loss of traditional artisans in Mexico. Artisans are aging out and so few of the next generation are stepping in to continue the work. She asks, Why is tradition dying out?
Is the acquisition of artesania being abandoned by the consumer? What is happening in the communities to impact this change? What is in need of revitalization? How do you prepare artisans to sell at fairs and expoventas? How do they show things, take orders, fulfill and ship? Are goods priced fairly for the amount of time put into making them? What are people willing to pay because something is made in Mexico? How do you commodify art, handmade?
So, it’s not only about keeping the skill alive, it is about getting it out into the marketplace? Once something becomes commercialized, then does that erode its value and also compromise how an artisan is compensated?
As they say, It’s complicated!
And, if one changes the scale of motifs or introduces different color palettes to satisfy marketplace demands, or adapt a textile to another purpose (think going from sarapes/ponchos to rugs to handbags and purses), is this a compromise of traditions?
Important topics of discussion during the conference included appropriation of traditional design motifs by contemporary fashion designers, fair wages, using sustainable and native materials. “What is Fair Trade, really?” when there are no standard rules.
Marta notes that when something is handmade AND mass-produced, someone is not being paid very well.
Many of us want to meet the artisan, have a personal relationship and buy directly so that the money exchange benefits the maker 100%. That’s not always possible, so it’s important for us to read labels, and ask who made my clothes.
We also need to be sensitive and conscious to the myth that Mexican handmade items are cheap or that we can bargain just for the fun of it. Let’s be conscientious about the haggler mentality.
What we also notice is that most weavers are no longer creating cloth for themselves — they are weaving for the marketplace, no longer investing a year of labor to create an elaborate ceremonial huipil. They may dress in ready-made cotton or polyester purchased at Soriana or Walmart. Why?
[Note: This “stained glass window” huipil, above, is from the Chinantla pueblo of San Felipe Usila, about 12 hours from Oaxaca up a mountain road. I know the makers. It is woven on a back-strap loom, then intricately embroidered in cross-stitch. A special piece. Size L-XL. $500 USD. Time to make: 8 months. Who wants it?]
To dress differently exposes one to racism and discrimination. We heard a story about a Oaxaca village where the mayor was so intent on assimilation, that he forbade any weaving of traditional garments. It took thirty years to rescue the tradition by encouraging a new generation of weavers to bring back their cultural identity.
During the conference, Andares del Arte Popular hosted a curated show and sale of artisans in an adjacent patio. Conference-goers could meet the makers and buy directly from them. It was a wonderful introduction to Oaxaca for WARP.
I was pleased to to work with WARP to produce this conference. I served as the on-site administrator and conference planner, participated on the program committee, contacted speakers, organized a panel discussion, arranged for hotel, meals, conference venue, transportation, and a one-day natural dye textile tour for all conference attendees. We went to villages to meet artisans and understand the complexity of the creative work of Oaxaca. On Sunday, 12 women accompanied me on an optional walking tour of Oaxaca with a focus on naturally dyed textiles. More about this in the next posts.
Marta Turok, the noted Mexican applied anthropologist and specialist in folk art and textiles, will give the keynote address at the WARP (Weaving a Real Peace) International Conference in Oaxaca, on Saturday, June 9, 2017.
I’ve been working with WARP and program chair Judy Newland for the better part of a year to help organize the conference. Marta just wrote this morning to summarize the remarks she will make.
“My talk will focus on how I learned that a project requires a methodology. It begins with a good assessment (diagnostic) in order to draw a master plan. There are many imponderables as the project continues and one has to be constantly evaluating to see how to make adjustments.
This diagnostic includes understanding the role of crafts production and marketing in the community/region, the number of craftspeople/families involved, the capacities that exist and those that need to be developed, how raw materials are acquired and distributed, what the means of production are, what markets one wants to target.
The approach should be integral, analyzing the environmental, cultural and socio-economic issues surrounding the community and the group. The clearer the goals, the more investment in capacity building and decision-making, the better chance the group will be able to appropriate the process.”
Click Here to see the complete program and to register. It’s not too late!
Other conference speakers include Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation representative Lorena de la Piedra, Zapotec weaver Porfirio Gutierrez, designer and natual dye expert Rocio Mena Gutierrez, University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty member Carolyn Kallenborn, social entrepreneur Ana Paula Fuentes, and founder of Chamuchic project Claudia Muñoz Morales.
There will be an expoventa (exhibition and sale) of folk art and textiles on June 9 in the ex-convento San Pablo patio presented by Andares Arte Popular. On Saturday, June 10, conference-goers will travel to villages to meet textile artisans as part of their conference registration.
Here is the complete Program
Saturday, June 9, 2017
8:00 a.m. Breakfast
Morning Sessions –
9:30 Cindy Lair, WARP President – Welcome and Acknowledgments
9:45-10:30 Marta Turok, our keynote speaker from Mexico City, an applied anthropologist who focuses on socio-economic artisan development in Mexico; she is considered one of the foremost experts on Mexican Folk Art and will discuss her work and what it means for artisans in a global world market
10:30-11:15 Lorena De la Piedra will discuss the work of the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation, it’s commitment to artisan development, bringing products to market and the natural dye culture of Oaxaca
11-30-12:15 Porfirio Gutierrez, Teotitlan del Valle master weaver, will present innovation and preservation in Zapotec Weaving – the evolution of design and the incorporation of innovative materials
LUNCH from 12:30 – 1:45pm
2pm-3pm Panel Presentation followed by roundtables discussions with all attendees participating
Topic: Working with Indigenous Artisans to create fashion and design projects, bringing products to market, design influences, integrity of design, cultural impact, ethical issues and challenges.
- Rocio Mena Gutierrez: WARP member and panel moderator, founder and designer of Zikuri Natural Dyes, Mexico City
- Ana Paula Fuentes: consultant/textile designer currently working with Fabrica Social
- Claudia Munoz Morales: textile designer, creator of the initiative Viernes Traditional, counselor for Impacto Textil and leads the Chamuchic group
- Carolyn Kallenborn – Associate Faculty at University Wisconsin Madison has worked with textile artisans in Oaxaca since 2003, and produced/directed the film, “Woven Lives”
3:00–3:30 Attendees will select discussion questions prior to meeting and break into small groups with leaders to talk about issues/ideas facing textile artisans around the world, including attribution, copyright, and working with foreign designers
3:45 Scholarship winners 5 minute presentations
1:00–7:00 ExpoVenta – a marketplace of regional artisans at San Pablo Cultural Center
6:00–7:30 Reception with visits to Museo Textil de Oaxaca which is next door
Saturday, June 10, 2017
8:00 a.m. Breakfast – we will have the WARP Annual Meeting during our Saturday breakfast
9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Natural Dye Weaving and Textile Tour, includes van transportation, lunch and visits to artisan studios with demonstrations and discussion of the natural dye tradition in Oaxaca, Mexico. Participants will meet weavers of rugs, home goods, handbags and clothing in their home studios. Tour will make four stops. You will see weavers working on the flying shuttle loom and tapestry loom. See traditional carding, spinning and dyeing methods using cochineal, indigo and other local plant sources. We offer honoraria to artisan-demonstrators on your behalf. Tour provider is Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.
I asked my writing sisters who attended the 2017 Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat to write about their experience tasting Oaxaca edible bugs after I wrote the essay for Mexico News Daily. I just heard from Lee Schwartz, who offered up this poem as a taste bud tickler.
Birds, Bees and Witchery Grub by Lee Schwartz, New York City
He won’t eat bottom feeders,
shrimp, scallops, mollusks,
he says it’s not healthy
and religion has nothing to do with it.
I say, more for me.
As for red meat, or free range birds
he says he doesn’t need
to kill an animal to have a meal.
He’s happy with kale, tofu,
chick peas, yogurt from contented cows —
I’m not that zen. I will eat anything
that tempts me. Maguey worms on
matzoh, chicatanas on a bun.
I have no righteous reasons
to turn down fries, fructose or fajitas.
Give me some crunchy chapulines,
I love to pick the little legs out of my teeth.
Serve me stink bugs and ant larvae
down Oaxaca way,
And from Africa, termites lightly roasted,
with nutty bread crumbs is quite a delicacy.
And then you kiss me,
swirl your tongue in my mouth,
lounging on ocean bed crawlers,
scraps of ants and hoof legged lamb.
Tangled in our wet throng,
you lean in to me and taste the forbidden,
the unsavory, the agribusiness
of death and poor husbandry,
crowded pens, feathers flying.
My moist and warm cove,
the enemy you embrace,
the dreaded morsels of sustainable love.
Interested in participating in 2018. Dates are set: May 2-9, 2018. Still working on a place. Send me an email if you are interested.