Nozipho Zulu employs traditional beading of South Africa to create a market for women, but with a slant: eyeglasses like you've never seen before.
Yang Xiufen batik-dyes with natural indigo for which her home in Guizhou, China, is well known, but with a shade of the unexpected: she innovates handsome jewelry from her precious indigo scraps.
Samla Dudeja works with 800 women in Bengal to keep alive the kantha stitch for which their region is celebrated - but makes it earth-friendly as she leads them in dyeing and stitching their rich past into a gentler future.
All of these women have come together this week in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the 15th annual International Folk Art Market. They have been accepted into this most esteemed market which selects from the best artisans in the world because they have bothered to know their origins. Because they have cared enough to learn about the place where they come by.
In a darkened theater here, Carla Fernández beams onto the stage in her world-warming smile. A celebrated designer based in Mexico City, Carla works with artisans throughout her native country, and has been asked by the Market to speak to a packed house about her ground-breaking work. I am mesmerized by her opening images of artisans dyeing and weaving, slowly unfolding to an indigenous choral chant I have never heard before. She explains how she traveled to Europe to learn pattern construction and fashion design; then returned to Mexico to teach all that she had learned and to create her fashion line. Yet, when she began to work with the artisans in Mexico, Carla soon threw away all that she had learned and started over, allowing the artisans to teach her what they had known all along. The way to dye, to weave, and construct a garment native to their place and perspective. On the ground, in the villages and fields, she learned the origins of her own textile traditions from artisans, for in their hands, the old ways had never been lost.
To be original is to go back to the origin. This image on Carla's screen seizes my imagination, loosely quoting, I feel sure, from Antoni Gaudi. I think, then, of my meeting with sisters Aidai and Nurzhamal of Kyrgyzstan, who learned well the felting of their grandmothers and now, with surprising innovation, elevate it with their own materials and designs.
I think of the Kalamkari artisans of rural Bengaluru who are hand-painting textiles in the manner of centuries past, but for the first time, putting a paycheck in the hands of women who carry this remarkable skill.
I think of all of the 140 artisans at this mind-expanding market who dig into the depths of their cultural past to find clues to identity and belonging in this perplexing moment in history . . . and then press those findings gently, persistently, creatively toward their next iteration. These artisans hold their own proud heritage to their hearts, face the complexity of the world in which they find themselves today, and out of that creative tension, give birth to something utterly original. That means - to me, at least - at one with their origins, and at one with their singular heart.
Isn't it the same that is asked of all of us? That I find myself on this planet, rooted to a people or a past or a place that that I can rightfully claim. And then to grow out of it something freshly my own, a singular bloom, a mark upon the cultural land from which I take sustenance? To be original, says Gaudi, says Carla Fernandez, says all of the brilliant artists of this market, is to go back to the origin of who we are and to know it, love it, and then to make it wildly and passionately my own.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker