High tech for low tech…

One of the first major publications on Mexican handcrafts, by artist Dr Atl in 1921.

Mexican handcrafts (artesanía) may have started as trades to produce items of utilitarian importance or, sometimes, the creation of products to be consumed only by certain classes of people (e.g. silverware).

The Industrial Revolution took its toll on handcrafted items, wiping or nearly wiping them out worldwide. Where they do survive, it is because their making as taken on a cultural significance.

This is the case in Mexico as well. By the beginning of the 20th century, most handcraft traditions in the country were in a death spiral because of mass production. Such production is still a threat, with the added “bonus” of even cheaper products from abroad.

But artesanía still clings to life in Mexico and there are even bright spots in the tradition. There are two main factors: the recognition of these traditions to Mexican culture and the tourism industry. How this works is for another article.

Promotional video on the artesanía represented at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City

This cultural aspect means that artisans can receive government, NGO and other support other business might not. These include state and federal handcraft competitions and grants, private efforts such as the Feria Maestros de Arte and sometimes spontaneous efforts from Mexican students.

Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Studies (generally referred to simply as Tec) is Mexico’s largest private high school and university system, with campuses in most of the country’s states, especially in the north and center. It has a privileged position with access to the latest technology, and students who can use it.

Animation on the history of the Vochol

All Mexican undergraduate students are required to complete an insane number of community service hours (480) in order to get their degree. How that happens is up to the student and the institution they attend. Since 2011, the Mexico City campus of Tec has a unique program that allows students to create online resources, particularly in Wikipedia called Wiki Learning Tec de Monterrey.

Students are permitted create any kind of content from the text, to photographs, to videos, animations and more. They are also permitted to choose topics, but since one of the coordinators of Wiki Learning is your humble blog author, Mexican handcrafts is a favored topics. Most Wikipedia articles on Mexican artesanía are either authored by us or have been translated from our work in English and Spanish.

Animations on alebrijes and the Monumental Alebrije Parade

But we are not limited to text. We have majors in video, sound engineering and animation, which has allowed us to create everything from short gifs to 15 minute mini-docs. Two examples of our best work relates to artesania. One is a video about alebrijes, done in collaboration with the Museo de Arte Popular and another on the Vochol… a VW Beetle decorated by 4 Huichol families using 2.7 million beads. This piece has traveled to countries in North America and Europe to raise awareness of Mexico’s handcraft tradition.

The beauty of these videos is that all are in Creative Commons Share Alike license, allowing anyone to use the videos for any purpose (with attribution), a requirement of Wikipedia. This not only allows students to use the work as part of their portfilios but individuals and organizations can also promote the video and its content. A must in today’s world, even though very little of traditional media has caught onto this.


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