Getting to see this exhibit El Rebozo Made in Mexico before it closes Sunday, August 30, 2015, has been a priority for me since I first heard about the planning for it several years ago from British fashion designer-textile artist Hilary Simon. I scheduled this Mexico City stopover of two days before returning to the U.S. just for this purpose.
The rebozo, or shawl, is a symbol of Mexico’s cultural identity. Textile regions throughout the country have designed and woven these rebozos according to local custom. Some are woven on a back strap loom, others on a pedal loom by women and men who learned at the feet of their parents and grandparents.
Some are finished off with elaborate macrame hand-tied fringes that can be as longs as twelve or eighteen inches. Some are plain weave and others are Mexican ikat or jaspe from the Tenancingo in the State of Mexico or Santa Maria del Rio in the State of San Luis Potosi. The one above is hand embroidered from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
Fibers vary, too. There is silk, a mix of silk and cotton, rayon or artecel that is called “seda” (silk) here in Mexico, plus wool. The type of material, gauge of the thread and density of weave depends on the climate in each location.
In pre-Columbian times, indigenous people cultivated coyuchi or wild cotton that is a beautiful caramel color, using it to weave garments, including rebozos. In the mountains above Oaxaca in a village called San Pedro Cajonos, they cultivate a wild silk the color of straw from a local worm, spinning it with a drop spindle. Below is the red silk rebozo dyed with cochineal by Moises Martinez, part of Lila Downs‘ collection.
Local dyes were derived from indigo, wild marigold, nuts, mosses, tree bark. They used the caracol purpura snail found along the southern coast of Oaxaca to dye purple and the miniscule cochineal beetle, a parasite that lives on the prickly pear cactus paddle, for an intense, color-fast red. Feathers dyed red with cochineal were often woven into the fibers for embellishments.
All these techniques and materials are still used today and are part of the exhibition.
The State of Oaxaca is well-represented in this exhibit. Many of the rebozos on display are part of the personal collections of Oaxaqueños and its institutions: Remigio Mestas Revilla, Mauricio Cervantes, Lila Downs, Trine Ellitsgaaard, Maddalena Forcella and The Museo Textil de Oaxaca.
A black scented burial rebozo (above) woven in Tenancingo, part of Maurico Cervantes’ collection, displays an ancient Mexican tradition that is at risk of extinction because it is so labor intensive to make. Western fashion is dominating the tastes driven by a young, hip population.
It is a completely manual process that takes months to complete. When you think of the rarity of the raw materials and the time commitment involved to complete a piece, it is no wonder that many command prices of up to $2,000 USD each.
No Mexican exhibition would be complete without a reference to beloved Frida Kahlo. Above, left, is a photograph of a rebozo from her personal collection taken at Casa Azul by Pablo Aguinaco. To the right is a photographic portrait from 1951, just three years before her death at age 47.
Other iconic images in the exhibition are this Diego Rivera painting, Vendadora de Flores, painted in 1934 (above), and this compelling photograph (below) by Pedro Valtiera taken in Oaxaca, 1974.
I wanted to see the best of the best in preparation for a textile trip I’m taking to Tenancingo in September to the rebozo fair. Going to the exhibit is part of my continuing education to know even more about Mexico’s textile culture and the importance of garment for cultural identity and continuity.
In addition to the textiles, the exhibit integrates old and new photographs, paintings, mixed media art work, memorabilia and related folk art.
Above left is the felted wool and silk rebozo with cochineal stripe by Maddalena Forcella, titled Rebozo de Sangre, made in 2014. Above right is a handmade paper rebozo designed and constructed by Oaxaca textile artist Trine Ellitsgaard.
Photographer Tom Feher, who lives in Oaxaca with his wife Jo-Ann during the winter months, is represented with photos he took of the Miramar, Oaxaca women’s cooperative (above) for his book, Weaving Cultures, Weaving Lives: A Circle of Women. Oaxaca photographers Antonio Turok and Mari Seder also have pieces in the show.
I loved Hilary Simon‘s Mi Altar Mexicano (above) and a series of watercolors (below) that Christopher Corr painted in 2000, all capturing the rebozo and the women who wear them.
Rebozos have so many uses. They carry babies and bundles. They are wrapped like a crown to balance a basket filled with fruit or tamales or flowers. They are folded and put atop the head for sun protection. They protect shoulders from the evening chill. They cover the breast as baby takes nourishment. They are the embodiment of Mexican life.
El Rebozo Made in Mexico is at the Franz Mayer Museum, Hidalgo 45, Cuauhtemoc, Centrol Historico in Mexico City. Tel: 55 5518 2266. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Monday. Hours can change, so call ahead to make sure they are open when you can be there.
Color Culture: Oaxaca at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market
Oaxaca and Mexico is well-represented at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, a knock-your-socks-off bazaar of many of the world’s best artisans.
Interspersed among the over 150 exhibitors are some of Oaxaca’s best artisans, too. Selection to participate is very competitive. Preference seems to be given to collectives and cooperatives that further the economic, cultural and social development of at-risk folk art.
Here are the groups from Oaxaca who came this year. We are proud of their accomplishments. They did very well and the income from sales are significant in sustaining and developing their personal lives, culture and craft.
Last Thursday I went to a discussion about color at Collected Works Bookstore given by textile design instructor Barbara Arlen. She talked about the psychology of color, how we choose it for fashion, home decor, mood, political importance, emotional well-being and comfort, and what we think looks good on us.
I’m moving toward indigo, the deep, intense blue derived from a plant, compressed, dried, ground and then made into a dye bath. This is a change for me and at the folk art market I was in search of indigo from Mexico, India, Africa. This seems to be the hot color this year, although it fits into the cool zone. Wear it with hot red beads.
Here in Santa Fe, like in Mexico, colors tend to be hot as a reflection of the environment. What works here doesn’t make it in New York or Detroit. Barbara talks about how New Yorkers prefer black and gray, the color of business, solemnity, seriousness and sophistication.
I am in New Mexico, the land of carefree fun, heat and brilliance with a deep Native American tradition of color. Red, coral, orange, turquoise, lime green, deep blue, pure gold, primary colors prevail here. Red, the color of passion, excitement, and yes, even sex, is predominant. Purple, the color of royalty, which came from the rare caracol purpura seashell.
Barbara Arlen says that color has to do with craftsmanship, faux vs. real, as in clothing, handbags and yes, even food. Slow food vs. fast food, the difference between flash cooked goodness where food is still close to its original fresh goodness and commercial food with chemical additives that give off a gray or brown or overcooked look.
Her discussion was an excellent introduction to folk art market shopping, where your bank account could be decimated within minutes. She asked us to pay attention to color hues, values and intensity.
She asked us to stretch to try a different color than we are used to wearing. Barbara recommended that we look at Style.Com and Vogue UK to keep up with current textile and fashion colors.
Always, she says, choose what makes you feel good. So, I did! And my friends Sheri and Sara did, too.
Posted in Clothing Design, Cultural Commentary, Mexico, Pottery, Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving, Travel & Tourism
Tagged artisans, color psychology, design, indigo, International Folk Art Market, Mexico, New Mexico, Oaxaca, Santa Fe, textiles