Tag Archives: culture

Beauty and Fashion: Did Carolina Herrera Copy Mexican Designs?

Why should we care?

Yes, I agree that Carolina Herrera’s new 2020 resort collection, just unveiled, is beautiful. The collection, the company says, is inspired by Mexican indigenous designs. When you look at the clothes, some of the designs are startling — exact duplicates of textiles made by hand in Mexican villages for centuries. Excusing this behavior because it is beautiful, ignores deeper questions about race, culture, heritage, history. Why don’t we call it what it is? Plagiarism. Stealing. Copying.

Okay. I’m angry.

Outrage is not based on whether a fashion house creates a beautiful line of clothing for it’s ultra-rich clientele nor does the beauty as a subjective assessment, figure into the discussion.

It is based on how and why indigenous people create the cloth they wear, who has authority and power, and who receives recognition and compensation.

Yesterday, Vanessa Friedman, fashion editor of the New York Times, wrote Homage or Theft? Carolina Herrera Called Out By Mexican Minister. It fuels the conversation about cultural appropriation issues, a hot topic today among those of us who respect indigenous people and what they make. Theirs is a history of culture, family, storytelling, spirituality and belief, through cloth as a cultural expression.

Lifting designs out of context violates the very foundation of culture. We have a hard time understanding this in the USA because we are bred in a culture of be more, earn more, get more, compete more. Here in Mexico, culture is based on community, family and ancient rituals. Clothing interprets this.

What fascinated me most was reading the comments from seemingly intelligent, considerate readers of the New York Times. I encourage you to read the comments section. There are over 450 comments. Overwhelmingly, people feel that:

  • the Herrera designs are beautiful and unique, and in no way resemble the indigenous clothing style of, for example, the Otomi traditional embroidered dress
  • cultural appropriation is PC — politically correct references that which is used to avoid offensive language
  • there are no legal restrictions on design, and runway designs are being copied and mass-marketed everywhere
  • imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
  • artists and creatives take their inspiration from wherever they want
  • political correctness in art and fashion has gone too far

I was surprised to read the responses that confirm that the Western world is either ignorant of or doesn’t appreciate the issues of disenfranchisement facing talented people, who are marginalized with little or no voice and have no legal protections. I am angry that people are blinded to human rights. Someone said, There is no such thing as cultural identity.

But, why should I be surprised? Indigenous design theft is only one more version of the power and wealth imbalance of conquerors with their attendant racism.

Here is what I wrote in the NY Times comment section in response to the Vanessa Friedman article:

Here we go again! This is a recurring theme of the privileged who think that “borrowing” from indigenous cultures is equal to paying homage, respect, and XXX Many of you label cultural appropriation as PC. It’s actually a real problem in Mexico when poor people living in remote areas have no voice to protect what belongs to them. People living and creating in indigenous villages for thousands of years don’t know about PC. They do know that working the cloth takes months. They learned it from their grandmothers and the designs include sacred symbols that have cultural, spiritual and social meaning. There is no context for the designs that haven been lifted and repurposed for the ultra-rich. There is no compensation to villages whose designs have been stolen. These designs are unique. Unlike music or architecture that builds upon what came before. It is different. These are designs copied verbatim. You get thrown out of college for that! Remember? Yes, the CH designs are beautiful – but because the original designs are beautiful. Let’s get it right. Let’s collaborate, not steal. Let’s employ at a fair wage. Let’s justly compensate. This is not about liberal or conservative. This is about doing what is right in the world. I’ve been living part-time in Oaxaca and working with indigenous artisans for years. Their lives are humble, they are generous, and they are concerned about loss of culture because clothing here is identity. We can help, not hinder the cause.

In response to Gail Pellet on my Facebook page, I say:

We have seen here in Mexico with the Isabel Marant case of stealing Tlahuitoltepec designs, that lawsuits don’t work. The indigenous designs are too old to be covered by copyright and patent protection, and are legally considered part of the public domain. However, the patrimony of Mexican pre-Hispanic culture is at risk. Invasion continues in its modern form.

And, in a conversation with Carry Somers, founder of #fashionrevolution on her Instagram page, I noted:

… the luxury brands are stealing our indigenous/native designs without compensation. There is a poverty of ethics in our world.

She says: We need to look to the Nagoya Protocol to protect indigenous knowledge around biological resources and need some comparable protection for indigenous designs. Let’s hope @susana.harp.oaxaca (singer turned senator from Oaxaca) can do something about this.

Please read the NY Times feature, then the comments, and comment, too, if you like. Please don’t comment unless you read the article. Thank you.

Oaxaca WARP Conference Kicks-Off with Marta Turok Wallace Keynote Talk

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.

WARP attendees gather in San Pablo Cultural Center, Oaxaca

More than 70 people attended the conference. They came from Mexico, the USA, Canada, Poland and Russia.

Applied cultural anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace

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.

WARP president Cindy Lair welcomes participants

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.

Teotitlan del Valle weaver Porfirio Gutierrez talks about history, culture

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.

The inversion graph, an aging population of artisans, copyright M. Turok

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?

Scholarship recipients present their work, philosophy of design

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!

Young women from Chenalho, Chiapas, represent their cooperative

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.

Speaker Eric Chavez Santiago will discuss commercialization

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?

SOLD: Hand-woven, embroidered ceremonial huipil, San Felipe Usila. 

[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.

A conference of weavers, dyers, anthropologists, collectors, textile lovers

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.

 

 

 

Chiapas Notebook: Tenejapa Textiles and Thursday Market

Tenejapa, Chiapas is a regional center in the highlands of Chiapas about an hour- and-a-half beyond San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s a regional administrative center, about midway between the city and the remote village of Cancuc, past Romerillo. Most roads splay out from San Cristobal like spikes on a wheel hub, dead-ending down a canyon or mountain top at a remote village where traditional weavers create stunning cloth.

Tenejapa supplementary weft on cotton warp, with handmade doll

There are two reasons to go to Tenejapa.

Tenejapa market scene, the perfect village tianguis

First is the Thursday market that covers the length of four to six blocks (depending on the season) where everything needed to maintain a household is sold, including fresh roasted and ground coffee cultivated from bushes on nearby hillsides.

Rich, roasted, fresh ground coffee in the market, locally grown

This includes fresh dried beans, ground and whole chili peppers, ribbons and lace for sewing, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and an occasional textile find.

See highlights from 2017 Chiapas Textile Study Tour.

We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018.  Contact me if you are interested in itinerary and price. Taking a wait list!

Beautiful handwoven bag, a market find, random delights

Most of the textiles on the street are woven for local consumption. So, fabric and the materials to make it reflects the current fashion tastes of traditional ladies who weave to adorn themselves and their neighbors. Cotton takes longer to dry, so cotton thread has been replaced by synthetic. Now, the shinier the better.

Chili peppers, whole or ground, take your pick

We see this throughout the villages in the Chiapas Highlands where glittery threads are incorporated into the weft and warp, and polyester gives the textile a sheen that is now preferred.

Inspect carefully. Bright colors can be synthetics, as are these. Glorious, nevertheless.

Where to find the traditional textiles of five, ten, twenty years ago? Sometimes, you can find them hanging from ropes strung from wall to wall inside the shops along the market avenue. Sometimes, they are folded under a stack of the more contemporary pieces that Tenejapa fashionistas like.

Corn for sale, displayed in traditional handwoven ixtle market bag

The second, and perhaps more important reason to visit Tenejapa is to spend time in the cooperative operated by Maria Meza Giron. The building is next to the church, across from the zocalo and municipal building.

Sheri Brautigam, author and our textile tour resource, chats with Maria Meza

Maria and her son Pedro Meza, are co-founders of Sna Jolobil textile cooperative with anthropologist/friend/guide Walter “Chip” Morris.  We bumped into him there that day as we were deep into textile heaven.

An amazing ceremonial cloth, hand-woven, snatched up by Kathleen

These textiles — huipils, ponchos, purses, blankets, rugs, shirts, belts, woven ixtle bags, skirts and ceremonial garb — are the finest examples with the most traditional quality of weaving found in Tenejapa.

What will this become? Textile in progress on back strap loom.

Some pieces are dense with wool supplementary weft woven onto a one hundred percent cotton warp. All created on the back strap loom. Garments are always as wide as the loom they are woven on.

Barbara looks at fine detail work on this Tenejapa sash

It was hard to choose. Hard to focus. Hard to pull away and say goodbye when the time came. The examples available for sale would sell for twice the price in San Cristobal de las Casas in finer galleries. It was well worth the trip for this, and for the experience of mingling among the people.

Tenejapa woman shopping for a comal — clay griddle

Just a note: Not many visitors come here. We were the only foreigners walking through the market. People are resistant to having their pictures taken. Photographs of fruits and veggies are okay. I always asked if I could take a photo (the people, not the vegetables). Most said no. Once, I shot from the hip and felt guilty.

Handwoven bags on display stand for sale.

Our anthropologist guide advised us to never photograph inside a village church. We didn’t. I did not shoot from the hip there. I attended to watching where I stepped. Lit candles blazed on the floor in front of altars to saints.  As a consequence, you will see lots of textiles, tomatoes, oranges, and shoes.

Zocalo is also the taxi station, constant round trips to San Cristobal

The people who travel with me tend to be those with a deep appreciation for Mexicans and their creativity. Folk art or popular art in Mexico is made one piece at a time, one thread at a time. By coming here, we gain an understanding for craftsmanship that is passed down from mother to daughter, father to son.

Our guide explains Maya-Catholic Church traditions and what we will see inside

There is no magical way of being appreciative, warm and gracious. The feelings between visitor and host are reciprocal. We value the inspiration, hard work and dedication to keeping hand-made craft alive. Those who make and sell value our support and appreciation for what they do. It’s a bonus if we buy.

Being a locavore isn’t trendy, it’s a way of life

But shopping isn’t everything and that’s not why we are here. We are here because creative people are tucked in every corner and behind every hillock, using their open hearts and strong hands to bring color and joy into the world.

Beautiful, intricate Tenejapa huipil, wool weft for the design on cotton

We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018.  Contact me if you are interested with itinerary and price. 

You Are Invited: Italian Cultural Festival in Oaxaca

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.