Remigio Mestas Revilla is a hero to many of us in Oaxaca, Mexico, who love indigenous textiles. For 33 years, he has worked with weavers in remote villages to revive lost traditions and preserve those that are at risk of becoming a lost art.
His collection can be seen at a new gallery he operates at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and at his shop Los Baules de Juana Cata on Macedonio Alcala in the Los Danzantes patio, both in the Centro Historico. Everything is personally selected and made by weavers that Remigio has encouraged and supported over the years.
On Tuesday, September 18, 2012, La Jornada, a Mexico City newspaper, published an extensive feature story about Remigio and the weavers he works with. Making a huipil (dress), for example, is a long process that can take six to twelve months of weaving intricate designs on a back-strap loom. And, the compensation is minimal compared with the time invested.
“Some techniques have become obsolete,” says Remigio, “because they are so labor intensive.” It is easier for people to give up this work and go to the city or migrate to the United States where they can earn more to support their families than to devote the months it takes to make a garment that might sell for $250 USD. Many visitors come to Oaxaca looking for a bargain and don’t realize the amount of work needed to create a hand-woven or embroidered textile.
Walk into either one of Remigio’s galleries and you will see trunks filled and shelves stacked with treasures from remote villages that might be as far away as 15 hours by unpaved, mountain roads. Huipiles, rebozos, blusas, faldas, (dresses, shawls, blouses, skirts) and other traditional garments are woven by Oaxaca’s various indigenous groups: Mixtec, Triqui, Chinantec, Mixe, Zapotec, Huave, Chatino, Amusga, Mazatec, and Tacuate Cuicatec. He encourages them to weave highest quality pieces and he represents them to offer the pieces for sale at an equitable price so that weavers are fairly compensated for their work.
Upcoming Textile Workshops
- Feb. 1-7, Weaving & Natural Dye Workshop–Dancing on the Loom
- Feb. 2-9, Felted Fashion Workshop–Indigenous Clothing Design
- March 22-30, Art of the Rebozo–Painting on Silk
Los Baules de Juana Cata and the textile museum shop represent the work of 350 experts who are spinners, dyers, and weavers from the eight regions of Oaxaca. Garments range in price from about $25 USD to fine collector pieces that can be as much as $30,000 USD. Walking into either shop is like being in a museum, too. Here we find blouses and dresses woven from silk, Coyuchi cotton (“Coyuchi” is a word used in southern Mexico for naturally colored brown cotton. It is originally derived from the Aztec language and refers to the color of the coyote), wool, sisal, and Egyptian cotton. The materials might be dyed with cochineal, indigo, coconut, or snail (purpua) from the Costa Chica. Designs include shawls, wedding dresses from the Sierra Norte, and floral costumes from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
This is a great place to discover and explore the textile traditions of Oaxaca, learn about the complexity of creating fabric and natural dyes, and discern quality differences. I recommend that you visit these two shops first before you make any buying decisions. You may decide, as I have, that buying one great piece is worth more over time than buying several of inferior quality. How can you tell? By the uniformity and closeness of the weave, by the soft touch of the fabric, and by its natural smell.
Remigio’s Textile Shops
Los Baules de Juana Cata, Macedonio Alcala in the Los Danzantes Patio, Oaxaca
Galeria at the Museo Textile de Oaxaca Galeria, corner Hidalgo and Fiallo, Oaxaca
Remigio’s, Historic District, Mexico City — Calle Isabel la Catolica #30, 2nd floor in the Azul Historico
About Remigio Mestas Revilla
Remigio was born 40 years ago in the village of Yalalag Zapoteca. From the age of five, he went with his mother to Oaxaca to deliver the shawls she wove. The people she sold to would always negotiate the price. If they would pay her 500 pesos when she asked 1,000, she told Remigio she would make a piece that would fit the price they would pay her. She bought fabric factory and embroidery thread rather than making her own.
The decline of Oaxaca textile quality happened over the past 40 years, as weavers began cutting costs to meet the market demand for lower prices. Quality suffered. Some could not earn enough and stopped weaving. After Remigio earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting, he decided to devote his life to changing the economics of weaving, which results in cultural preservation.
He has formed an autonomous weaving guild to continue the work and retain the culture. They are not interested in politics or religion. The guild is a mix of Catholics, Protestants, peasants, students, everything, he says. The goal is to promote the weaving traditions with the next generation through training and education, to offer health care services and financial management advice, and to reinvest in the future.
It took years for Remigio to get a Visa to the United States. He was repeatedly turned down until the World Bank invited him to exhibit in 1997. He has been an exhibitor at the juried, distinguished Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. He knows what is lost through out-migration and is committed to helping the Mexican migrant community in the United States return to their roots and re-ignite their pride in hand weaving.
Remigio is opening a new Mexico City store at La Calle de Isabel la Catolica, 30-7 in the Centro Historico to broaden the knowledge of indigenous arts throughout Mexico. He wants people to understand textile symbolism, that flowers on a Triqui garment represent fertility, that the Quetzalcoatl is there for protection.
“We do not weave in bulk. We make pieces that feed the spirit,” Remigio says.
Visiting with the Deceased: Customs Across Cultures
Modern Mexican celebrations of Day of the Dead are embedded in indigenous rituals dating as far back as 3,000 years ago. Today we find U.S. versions of Mexico’s celebration co-mingling with Halloween symbols on both sides of the border. Yes, we see orange pumpkins, pointy hats and candy corn in Oaxaca, too. Proof that migration goes both ways!
Days of the Dead: From Mexican Roots to Present Day Practice in the U.S., celebrates this with a Duke University gallery opening on Tuesday, October 2, 5:30-7:30 p.m., one week from today. The exhibition features a traditional student designed/built altar, talk by Oaxaqueños Eric Chavez Santiago and Janet Chavez Santiago, a Oaxaca rug presentation, and photographs by 2011 participants in the Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography Expedition from Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. [This year’s expedition is Sold Out!*]
Delving further into cultural practices, Duke University panelists will look at traditions of celebration and mourning that involve visiting with the deceased not only in Mexico, but also in other parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.
Visiting with the Deceased: Customs Across Cultures will be held on Wednesday, October 3, 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. at the John Hope Franklin Center, Room 240. It is sponsored by The Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South, and co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Service-Learning Program, both at Duke University. The discussion is free and open to the public.
If you are unable to attend these events, we encourage you to look for a Day of the Dead celebration in your local community to learn more and appreciate the customs of our Latino/a neighbors.
*Get on the waiting list for 2013 Day of the Dead Photography Expedition in Oaxaca. Subscribe to this blog and/or contact me to get on the first notification list.
Our next Oaxaca photography workshop is with Duke University Center for Documentary Studies faculty member Frank Hunter, who will lead Street Photography: Seeing Beyond the Ordinary. Coming up January 16, 2013.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Photography
Tagged blogsherpa, customs, day of the dead, Mexico, Oaxaca, rituals