Handcrafts and the president

In Mexico, unless you live in a cave, you know that Mexico’s new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (colloquially called AMLO) was inaugurated on December 1 of this year.  Now this is not a political blog, but handcrafts made their way into this event.

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Credit: elpopular.mx

AMLO was the first president to ask for and receive the “staff of command” (bastón de mando) from Mexico’s indigenous communities. The idea behind the staff and the ceremony is to remind the government and the rest of Mexico’s population of its indigenous peoples, which are often marginalized. The staff was hand carved of cedar in Tlaxcala, and is adorned with ribbons of various colors which symbolize the cosmology of Mexico’s 68 recognized indigenous ethnicities.

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Credit: El Quadratin

Behind the stage, there were meters-tall panels in various colors and patterns. These were also made in Tlaxcala, by artisans in Huamantla which is known for the making of temporary “carpets” of sawdust, flower petals and other organic matter for processions. These panels were made by arranging dried corn husks that were first colored with aniline dyes. The artisans worked 16-18 hour shifts for 22 days to make the 72 panels measuring 360 m2. The task required over 750 bundles of husks. This “vertical carpet” is the first of its kind and of this size, but it certainly will not be the last. The impression the panels made, along with the significance of the ceremony almost guarantees that panels like this will be created in the future.

Inaugurations are all about symbolism, representing what the incoming elected official has promised for the coming term. Im cynical by nature, but I cannot help but hope a little that this very prominent display of handcrafted talent will translate into something good for Mexico’s artisans, especially the indigenous ones.

 

 

 

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Piñata party just outside of Mexico City

675px-Pinatas_pinata_stjärnaPerhaps Mexico’s most iconic and most widespread handcraft is the making of piñatas. Despite the growing popularity of Day of the Dead and the paper mache forms associated with it, the piñata remains king of things made with paper and paste. There is no town in the entire country that does not have at least one person who makes them at least part time. Those who make them are called piñateros, not the general term for paper mache artisans, cartoneros.

Originally, piñatas were made with old clay pots that were decorated. If you look hard enough in the State of Mexico, you can still find a few workshops that make these. But for both economy and safety, the piñata is now made with paper mache.

While they are fantastically popular with birthday parties, the most traditional use for piñatas is at Christmas, more specifically during the posadas, reenactments of the search of Mary and Joseph for lodging before Jesus is born. This use was established in the town of Acolman, State of Mexico, the birthplace of the Mexican piñata, which hold a festival every year in honor of its native handcraft.

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Statue of monk breaking a piñata in Acolman

The 33rd edition of the feria de piñatas is held from 14-15 December 2018, and centered on the Acolman monastery which introduced the breaking of the piñatas as an evangelical tool, replacing a similar tradition formerly dedicated to the Aztec god of war. The event is regionally very popular bringing attendees from various municipalities here north of Mexico City.

The festivas has various activities over the weekend, with horse racing, the selection of a fair queen and various artistic and cultural activities. But the star of the show is the exhibition and sale of piñatas and other handcrafts, as well as an offering of regional cuisine. It is also worthwhile to note that the town of Acolman has been named a Pueblo Mágico, primarily because the huge early colonial monastery has been kept in very good condition… along with the piñatas of course!

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Acolman monastery in Acolman, State of Mexico

 

Mexican Dreamweavers

42645327_2388223821217796_4239816054743760896_nMexican Dreamweavers is an organization of foreigners on the coast of Oaxaca that supports local artisans in various ways. It works with two cooperatives based in the Costa Chica region: a women’s cooperative that focuses on weaving and  the other for men that makes a special purple dye and carves coconut shells. The main idea of ​​the organization is to give artisans access to markets that they otherwise would not.

The organization has its origins in the teachers’ strike in Oaxaca in 2006, when tourism to the state dried up Patrice Perillie is an immigration lawyer. The weavers in the area initially came to her to ask for help to go to the United States, but she told them that their weaving work was too important, so she would work to help them stay.

Her insistence on helping the weavers make a living with their skills came in part from a fortuitous experience. While visiting the city of Oaxaca (inland), Perillie bought a huipil for a girl. Neither she nor the girl knew anything about it, but it was light and Perillie thought it would be good to use it on the beach of Puerto Escondido, where she lives. He found out about a project to paint Converse sneakers and went to investigate. She could not buy any of the slippers, since they were talked about, but she met the local weavers of Amuzgo. One of them informed him that this same huipil was from this area and could even tell who had achieved it. Perillie took this as a sign.

 

So, Perillie started selling out of her house in Puerto Escondido and the business grew.  In 2008, she worked with a group of foreign expatriate friends to create a craft fair in Puerto Escondido, an important tourist town. The fair was a success, not in the least because of the group’s ability to reach expats and other foreigners, a vital market for Mexican handcrafts. From this beginning over nine years ago, it has become a yearly event, held on the third Sunday of January.

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Originally the event drew tourists and others who were already in the area, but now there are people who travel specifically to attend. The organization also works to bring the groups’ work to other parts of Mexico and the United States, receiving  invitations to other events such as the Art Masters Fair in Chapala, Jalisco and the International Popular Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as non-handicraft events such as an exhibition dedicated to Frida Kahlo at the Botanical Garden of New York.

Although the Amuzco in Guerrero are better known for the working of native Coyochi cotton, Perillie insists that the coastal Mixtecs in neighboring Oaxaca are really the last to fully depend on growing, harvesting, spinning and weaving the fiber without buying supplemental commercial cotton.  Another distinction in their work is the use of a purple dye made from a local native purpura pansa mollusk. Not all purple garments are made with this dye, and those that are are significantly more expensive. The main reason for this is that the animal is endangered. The cooperatives have programs to manage the snail populations, including campaigns to dissuade local snail collectors to avoid these to sell for food.

By supporting these artisan you can help keep them at home weaving, instead of fleeing to El Norte to make a living. This is a reverse migration project of www.laabogadadelpueblo.org. For more information, you can contact Patrice Perillie by phone US (646) 290-5544 México (954) 102-1792 and by email at mexicandreamweavers@hotmail.com

Photos courtesy of Mexican Dreamweavers from their Facebook page.