The Makers Keeping the Ancient Art of Weaving Alive
Programs begun in 1935 for German-American artists Joseph and Annie Albers Made 13 trips to Mexico; On each one, he studied the pyramids and crumbling palaces of civilizations before the European invasions that began in the 16th century. They were ready to Grecas, Ribbons of intricate geometric patterns that appear in a mosaic of sand-colored stone on high walls at Mitla, an ancient Ziotec archaeological site in the southern state of Oaxaca. These buildings and landscapes inspired Annie to work on the iconic 1968 Wall, which she designed for the lobby of Hotel Camino Real in Mexico City.
Twenty years later, when 40-year-old Mario Chavez Gutierrez started weaving his first rug at the age of 8, his father, Juan, a master weaver in the Zapotec village of Totitlan del Valle, pointed him to Mitala, along with him Instructed to recreate. Its step fret pattern. By practicing those designs, his father said, he can learn basic techniques for the family’s two-meter-wide wooden treadmill loom. Gutierrez mastered his craft by mimicking his family’s designs, eventually mixing them with newcomers in the 1980s when American rug vendors commissioned Oaxacan weavers to make Navajo-style rugs. Gutiérrez continued to hone his skills until he could present difficult curves – relatively unusual in Zapotec’s weaving – flawed.
In 2015, Oaxaca City-based designer and 37-year-old textile artist Daniel Villela, Gutierrez’s work took place at a Huizche shop run by a local artisan collective. Shortly thereafter, he met Gutierrez with a series of drawings that he referred to as the traditional indigenous garment, known indigenous to much of Mexico, quechquemitl. The asymmetrical pattern he imagined envisaged clothing in straight lines and diagonals, alluding to the imperfect grid of his city. Vilela was keen to collaborate with an artisan whose own work was running on traditional patterns. “These contemporary designs force you to break your technique and recreate it,” Gutierrez says. “And when you successfully meet those challenges, you start looking for them in every piece that you make later.”
The resulting line is called Figmento, Is one of many that have, over the past decade, combined the ancestral skills of textile artisans with specific urban approaches to design. Rather than romanticize the indigenous craft as a static symbol of tradition, these projects treat weaving as one of the countless living art forms practiced throughout Mexico as contemporary designers in their encounters with contemporary designs Evolved and changed through – today, as in Albers’ time – replaced by his encounters with ancient skills.
Mexican textiles have expanded among artists in TRADITIONAL and diverge from the revolutionary idealism of the last century. Frida Kahlo1930s painting works in Danish weavers’ paintings Trine elitsgaard, Which uses looms imported from Copenhagen to Oaxaca more than 30 years ago to adapt and change the contents and traditions of southern Mexico. Indigenous garments have been heralded as nationalist symbols, sheltered by politicians and their wives for sympathetic (and superficial) connections to rural voters, and rejected by an urban middle class, in a modern nation there is no place.
The enthusiasm for textiles today is part of a greater global apathy for handmade things – ceramics, glassware and mezcal – with their own history of unethical practices – as an antidote to mass production. Most Mexican weavers and textile artists work independently with their families, producing for tourist markets, state-sponsored competitions and private clients as well as their own communities. A wide range of problems can arise from collaboration: some are undeniably colonialist, as thoughtless designers and resellers make quick gains by treating artisans as low-cost labor. But the best partnerships involve weavers themselves as an integral part of the design process.
Consider Dutch-Mexican Designer Emma Gavalden van Leeuwen Boomcamp, 31, which forms the pattern of its rugs, woven into totitlan, on the stark lines of Mexican art deco. Expanding, simplifying, then turning Mexico City’s 1930s and ’40s grillwork into blocks of vivid colors, he echoes concentric diamond medals at the center of many traditional rugs. Other projects located in the southern states of the country, such as Rrres Studio, Operated by 33-year-old Dominican designer Xavier Reyes, and MAAdopting the opposite approach, from 36-year-old Mexican artist Melissa Ovilla, shapes figures from the natural world into rugs that reflect the vibrancy of naïveté, Joan miroSurrelite scenario. In Reyes’s 2018 Inner Content Series, the element of water – which Zapotec weavers once depicted as a zigzagging river along the border of the rug – becomes the sinuous line. In his work, Takes Veela takes Surya, depicted in other indigenous traditions as a series of concentric diamonds, and gives it a human face.
In the arid border state of Farrah North, Coahuila, 32-year-old architect and designer Daniel Valero began his career in 2014 in his hometown Saltillo by working with serape weavers. A centuries-old tradition, the development of vibrating blankets may have occurred following the arrival of Spanish colonists and indigenous inhabitants at the end of the 16th century. Serep-making reached its height by the mid-1800s, and subsided with industrialization over the last hundred years. In 2018, Valero worked with the Tamayo brothers, one of the last of the remaining serape-weaving families to create the bouquet, a series of 12 cholagelike rugs that pushed formal boundaries with semicircles and ellipses Which looked after the edges of the rectangular circumference. Sold under project name Mestiz“Cloth is about a mixture of knowledge – not just about race or ethnicity,” says Valero. “Each piece is something that is not only mine nor just theirs, but something else.”
Such creations occupy limited space between art and design, tradition and modernity, city and country, abstraction and representation: boundaries that Mexico’s indigenous artisans have always treated as permeable. After all, Mitla was a city long before it was a ruin, and its jewels – shapes that inspired lugs, gutiares, and countless others – may have been made in cotton before being carved out of stone. Every fabric, no matter who designs it and who weaves it, is therefore a transition of knowledge – and a change in itself.
Melissa ila Vila / MA, Javier Reyes / Rrres, Daniel Valero / Mestiz and RP Miller design and courtesy of Daniel Villela.