Cecilia Gomez Diaz is a very young and modest woman, whose work in weaving has been called art.
She is young (b. 1992) born in a small Tzotzil village just outside of San Andrés Larráinzar in the highlands of Chiapas. She did not learn Spanish until she was 12, when her family migrated to the “city” of San Cristobal de las Casas and she attended middle school there.
Like all traditional Tzotzil girls, she grew up with her mother and grandmother weaving, absorbing the basics just by watching while playing. She says such learning comes naturally, just by being around the older women while they are working.
Her family was poor, so from age 12 to 16, she worked as a domestic to help support them, but she hated it, saying she felt “trapped.” She decided to go back to San Andrés, but there is no work there.
Her aunt encouraged her to take up weaving again as it would allow her to earn some money to pay for her own school supplies and finish high school. She didn’t really like it at first because she was still young and wanted to “play.” But it wasn’t too long before she began to appreciate the loom, both as a “noble” means of earning money as the positive effect the work had on her mental state.
She says the repetitiveness of it is a kind of therapy. When she was a student, it was a way to decompress after a day of books and homework. As a mother now, it is a respite from all the different directions that the demands of the family. She says “With the loom, I can put all of that aside and concentrate on the threads. While I am working, there are no problems or stresses.”
Her initial work was traditional for her town, but as she learned to market her work, she found that there was demand for other styles, other color combinations, so she set out to learn more even though she was still in high school.
One of her learning experiences was with a program called Aid to Artisans, which works to help women textile artisans in design, quality and marketing. She was hired as a translator working with designer Carla Fernandez. The work gave her contact with weavers from other communities in the Chiapas highlands, noticing that while they use the same techniques, designs varied. This opened her eyes because before she thought that as a weaver, she was poor, but now sees the tradition as a “fortune”
Her first step towards doing more original and artistic weaving came with an interest in natural dyes. She had seen some of this work as a child, but it is in danger of disappearing. She decided to start researching it both as a means of reviving an aspect of her culture as well as its possibilities for self-expression in her weaving. She has been doing this only for about a year, and her learning process is still ongoing, but she is already teaching younger women and girls.
Acknowledgement as an artist came through the Galeria MUY, and art gallery in San Cristobal that specializes in supporting and promoting indigenous artists. The gallery is the brainchild of John Burstein, who has lived and worked in Chiapas for decades. Gomez had met Burstein as a child as he was a friend of her father’s. At the time, Gomez could not speak Spanish, and found it interesting that this American could speak Tzotzil.
The two lost touch as she grew up, but her textile work and family brought the two together again though mutual contacts. She was invited to MUY to talk to Burstein about some of her ideas about weaving. Being shy, Burstein had to press her some until she talked about loom design and the use of natural fibers. The director offered her support to pursue the project.
She verbally accepted but for a time, worked founding and running a weaving cooperative called Kiptik, which means “our strength.” The cooperative was sucuessful but Gomez left after a time because “I found myself in front of a computer all day instead of a loom.”
She had also recently married and become pregnant. She decided that if she was going to create the piece she talked about with Burstein, she had better do it before the baby was born, because she might not be able to do it afterwards. Her husband helped her construct the loom and used natural fibers such as cotton, silk and even fibers from the banana tree. She used little-known brocade techniques. Everything was an experiment. For example, she had to learn from her mother how to string the natural cotton onto the loom. The banana tree fiber she learned from her mother-in-law.
In the end, she got the piece done and Burstein was impressed, exclaiming that he had never seen anything like it. He told her that she should name the piece as it was art. She does not yet have a name for the work that she does, but Burstein had great faith in her, making her a part of the gallery and promoting her work. This work has been exhibited in Chiapas, other places in Mexico, the United States, Canada, and France.
Burstein says of her work…”Cecy Gómez is an artist on a very important journey. Not just a world-recognized expert and practitioner of textile, but an innovator in contemporary textile art! Mayan contemporary art, that is. She is imbued with the oral-cosmological-visual traditions of her pueblo, firm in her will-do artistic practice — she doesn’t spend time on machista and colonialized attitudes that surround us all — a hands on experimenter with natural dyes which is a passion for her, and a believer in the central role of Indigenity in reshaping the planet.”
Photos from the Facebook accounts of Cecilia Gomez and Galería MUY