A group of us spent five days at Original this past week. This is a textile extravaganza in Mexico City that honors indigenous weavers and designers from throughout Mexico. With over 1,000 artisans showing and selling what they make, to say the event was mind-boggling is an understatement. The show also featured pottery, lacquerware, copper, basketry, jewelry, and so much more.
We needed five days to do justice to Original! The event was held at Los Pinos in Chapultepec Park. It is the former residence and grounds of Mexico’s past presidents. When Lopez Obrador took office five years ago, he converted the mansions and grounds into a cultural center accessible to all.
Prominently featured were the textile makers of Chiapas. They work on backstrap looms as wide as their hips. Each finished length of cloth is then meticulously sewn together using intricate needle stitching that when complete looks like embroidery — but it isn’t!
A highlight was our meeting with Alberto Lopez Gomez, a weaver, designer, and one of the volunteer event organizers. We sat together under the shade of a large tree just beyond his exhibition booth while he showed us an extraordinary teal blue and black collector’s huipil and explained the meaning of each symbol in the cloth.
This particular huipil tells a story that is significant in his village, which is part of the municipality of Magdalena Aldama, one of the most accomplished weaving villages in the region.
Alberto talks about how important snakes are in Maya symbolism, and points to the first row of design in this huipil. Then he shows us Señor de la Tierra, Lord of the Earth holding up the universe. The next image is one of a bat, which is a messenger in his culture; after that is the corn god named Culiacán, then the sun, mother and father, representing the family.
There are images of clay pitchers used to water the field crops, and triangles denoting the four cardinal points.
Diamonds also represent flowers, corn, and large stars that depict the cycle of planting. Farmers arise in the pre-dawn and are guided by the stars. When stars smaller in the sky, ancient farmers knew the rainy season coming and it was time to plant.
Snakes, worms, and caterpillars are highly respected in Maya mythology and used for traditional medicine. Mayas also honor the underworld, and this is also reflected in the designs.
In this huipil, we also see white orchids, which are gathered in the mountains by the elderly. They are the only ones allowed to collect these. The orchids are the border design around the collar.
If a garment has fringes or tassels, these represent the braided hair of the women. This particular textile is very special, Alberto says, because it represents the story of his pueblo.
He now works with over 200 weavers in various municipalities in Chiapas.
We visit Alberto in his private home studio in San Cristobal de las Casas during our Chiapas Textile Study Tour. We have spaces open and invite you to join us as we explore the Maya textile culture of southern Mexico this February 2024.