The Making of THREADS: Kantha Behind-the-Scenes in Bangladesh

This month I would like to share a blog I recently wrote for ClothRoads about the documentary film project our WARP member, Cathy Stevulak, produced in Bangladesh. Cathy has an article in the current newsletter.

The film THREADS is a story of kantha cloth and women. Kantha is an ancient form of hand-stitch embroidery originating in the Indian sub-continent (Bangladesh, West Bengal and Bihar regions). Kantha refers to the indigenous quilt form and to the running stitch itself, which gives the cloth the wrinkly appearance that is characteristic of kantha. We thought it might be fun to take you behind the scenes to see how this documentary film evolved.

The Making of a Documentary Film

Did you ever wonder how documentary films are made? The vision just seems to appear on the screen as if by magic. The film, THREADS, tells a story of inspiration, determination and liberation about how one woman, Surayia Rahman, transformed the lives of artisan women in Bangladesh. But the production of the film THREADS is also an inspired story put together by a group of dedicated people who succeed through hard work and a little serendipity. This documentary film, by Canadian filmmaker Cathy Stevulak, has an intriguing behind-the-scenes production story.

Finding the story

Good stories do not just fall in one’s lap. Cathy first heard about “ a woman with gray hair who does remarkable embroidery work” from a museum volunteer in a gift shop. She eventually found Surayia during her stay in Bangladesh, but it was years later, after a suggestion by a professor that Cathy began to think about creating a documentary film to help raise awareness of the importance and impact of global artisanship.

Filming in Bangladesh

Challenges were daunting despite having collected a talented and experienced film crew from Bangladesh. One of the biggest was the fact that Surayia was quite elderly and not in the best of health. She rarely left her house or her favorite chair, so action shots were not in the cards. Gathering the artisans she worked with meant juggling schedules and navigating politically motivated strikes. Surayia’s modest home was surrounded by constant city activity and the noise in Dhaka was ever present. Some sound recording had to be done at night after much of the day’s activity was over.

Searching the world for art

Most of the art Surayia and the artisans had made over the decades had been sold to foreign visitors or gifted by the Government of Bangladesh to dignitaries of other countries. Tracking the art down took four years of detective work. But enough artwork was eventually found on five continents to provide the high quality art images needed for the film. As with so many projects, serendipity came into play time and again. Letters arrived in the mail at just the right time and patrons were found who filled out the storyline.

Why does it matter?

Screenings across the world have inspired others through the story of Surayia and her dedicated group of women artisans. At a screening in Dhaka, a young girl from a poor area wondered if she could learn how to do this “famous kantha”, envisioning a future where she might control her own fate.

 

Thanks to Cathy and her talented team for this inspiring story.
Read the ClothRoads November 2016 blog to learn more about kantha cloth. And many thanks to ClothRoads for letting me share this wonderful story with WARP members.

Dakota Mace Weaving Diné Art

Dakota Mace is a graduate student in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a 2017 recipient of the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship. She shares her work and philosophy.

Dakota discusses her artwork with WARP members in Oaxaca.

Dakota’s work “speaks about the dialogue between traditional vs. fine art and the way that the western world continues to perceive Diné weaving as utilitarian objects and not works of art. I have approached this conversation by subtly introducing western forms of weaving in combination with Diné beliefs. By doing so, I am creating an entirely new concept that translates the language of Diné weaving through the understanding of the fine art world. This serves not only as a different approach of cultural reclamation and preservation but also the importance of the meanings of the motifs used in my weaving.”

She says, “as an artist I feel that in order to understand a cultural history you must do so through design. I’ve focused on researching other artistic mediums that have a unique cultural narrative in relation to my own Diné culture. This includes paper-making, beadwork, digital weaving, quill-work and many other techniques. I continue to look to other cultures as forms of inspiration and teaching others about the importance of cultural appropriation in relation to Native American design.

Q. Do you think creating connected textile communities is important and why?

A. I think that one of the most important parts of connected textile communities is the relationships that it creates. Growing up in a craft based family, it was understood that to pass on the knowledge of my families craft we needed the interest of a younger generation. With that in mind, it is also very important to distinguish the idea of teaching others and passing on traditional knowledge. I have been fortunate to learn from various communities as well as cultures and I’ve come to realize that Indigenous communities are well aware of these practices. There is a need to create connected textiles communities for the sake of keeping the arts alive but there also needs to be an understanding that not everything about the medium will be fully discussed. I fully support connected textile communities and the amount of effort that goes into them and the understanding that there are still groups of people that have a very vibrant history to share others.

Q. What has drawn you to WARP?

A. What drew me to WARP was the fact that it wanted to connect communities with other textile enthusiasts. I support that idea of wanting to create bridges for future communities as well as continuing textiles traditions. I was fortunate to meet many amazing individuals through WARP and happy to continue my support!

Special thanks to Dakota for taking time and sharing with us. More Dakota at http://www.dakotamace.com/

Spotlight on St. Louis ArtWorks by Kelsey Wiskirchen

Apprentices at St. Louis ArtWorks in the Textile Studio

St. Louis ArtWorks is a job-training program combining art and life-skills education to create opportunities for high school students through a vigorous program using the arts as a vehicle for gaining multiple skills. Teens are hired as apprentices, working closely with a teaching artist to become immersed in a specialized artistic discipline.

In-Progress Batik
Apprentice Cutting Batik Fabric for Sewing

I teach textiles, and apprentices begin by learning dyeing techniques such as batik and itajime shibori. In the first few weeks, they produce a large collection of fabrics exploring a variety of patterns and color schemes.

After creating their collections, apprentices learn machine sewing for construction and hand embroidery for embellishment. Finally, the fabrics are combined to develop a line of home goods, accessories, and decorative wall hangings. Through the processes of designing, dyeing, cutting, sewing, and finishing, each item created contains the work of multiple apprentices.

The creative work done at STL ArtWorks is a vehicle to in-depth real-world job training. For many apprentices, this is the first experience with applying to and interviewing for a formal job, receiving a paycheck, and being accountable to a work environment. The program is structured to incorporate extensive professional development – everything from introducing themselves and shaking hands when visitors come the studio, to presenting design concepts and receiving critical feedback at a client meeting. Additionally, the program includes life-skills training sessions on topics such as fiscal literacy, health and nutrition, and resume writing.

Hand-Batik Fabrics Sewn into Pillows

As stated by the organization, “The mission of St. Louis ArtWorks is to broaden educational and career opportunities for youth in the St. Louis Region through apprenticeships in the arts and through community collaborations. The organization’s goal is to create positive educational opportunities through art for youth through paid apprenticeships.” It has been incredible to witness the empowerment and confidence developed within the framework of this program. As a teaching artist, I have seen how the experience of working in this apprenticeship directly impacts the apprentices, manifesting in pride for the quality of their work and pride in themselves.

More about STL ArtWorks can be found online here.

Table Runners Made from Hand-Dyed Fabrics
Batik Fabric with Hand-Embroidery

 

 

Indigo Dyed Placemats

 

 

Apprentices Hand-Embroidering Batik Fabrics

This article was written by Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen, and shared by Judy Newland.

Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen is a textile artist & educator living in St. Louis, Missouri. She has been a member of WARP since 2010, when she was a graduate student at Arizona State University and received the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship to attend the annual conference.  Kelsey currently teaches textiles at St. Louis ArtWorks & community workshops from her studio in St. Louis.

Tinkuy 2017: A Gathering of Textile Arts in Cusco

Tinkuy 2017, celebrated in Cusco, Peru from November 8 until November 11, began with the much anticipated parade from the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco to the Convention Centre, where the meeting was to be held. The colorful display of tradition and exuberance was clearly felt far beyond those attending the meeting. Citizens of the Cusco region and tourists alike stopped in their tracks to watch the prideful display of traditional textile techniques, many originating from far beyond the Peruvian border.

This, the third Tinkuy, came with notable additions. Formerly subtitled the “Gathering of the Weavers”, this year it was called the “Gathering of the Textile Arts”, which meant that embroiderers and specialty dyers were included in the celebration. Also, as if celebrating traditional techniques was not enough, this year the underlying theme included celebrating the continuation of tradition by including the youth. Lectures and discussion often involved ways that village members are transmitting technical information to the younger generation and also talking about how the social relevance is conveyed and maintained. Many young people attended the meeting, particularly on the last day of the conference which included a “Passing of the Torch to the Younger Generation”, a particularly poignant moment.

Every day’s packed schedule included guest textile artist presentations, which for me were particularly interesting. At this time, the artisans had an opportunity to talk about what they are doing within their communities as they move forward, how they have formulated their future plans, and how they intend to ensure that supplies will remain available and/or their deliberate return to traditional methods. They also talked about their young people and how they are tending to them and their commitment to maintaining tradition. It was humbling to listen to the effort that they are expending in keeping their creative lives meaningful for their children.

Teaching the youth.

The keynote addresses set the backdrop for the conference and tied the evidence that we were seeing around us to the textiles’ long and extensive history. That perspective really was essential, forcing the conference participants to take a deep breath and try to understand the magnitude of all that was around them.

The schedule included time for demonstrations and workshops every day. This time clearly pointed to the unspoken theme of Tinkuy – the cross pollination of ideas and techniques. This happened at so many levels – from one culture and/or village to another, from one specialty to another, from one fiber-type to another, from one country to another – and it was all truly magical.  People had come from many villages within Peru, as well as other countries within South America, such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Traditional artists from Guatemala, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Afghanistan, India and Laos also attended.

People gave so much of themselves, often with so much thankfulness. Sometimes the gift came in the form of a song, sometimes in the form of a dance. Tinkuy 2017 was a special time of color, textiles, dance, music, learning and inspiration. Thank you CTTC and ATA!!

Thanks Teena for sharing your wonderful experience with all of us!

Textile Teena in her element!

On the Road with Weaving for Justice

ON THE ROAD
People who love textiles love to travel because of the many opportunities to learn and experience culture through textiles and textile traditions. Traveling is one way to create or be a part of a connected textile community like WARP. But when travel is not possible, you can often connect to textile communities in your own back yard!

Weaving for Justice founding member Christine Eber, took Weaving for Justice on the road in October. Her vehicle was full of woven textiles and handmade items from several womens’ weaving cooperatives located in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. After a stop-over in Tucson, AZ, she headed to California for the 52nd Annual Borrego Days Desert Festival. She happily connected people in Southern California to the Maya textile communities in Chiapas.

WEAVING FOR JUSTICE SUPPORTS WOMEN
For decades Weaving for Justice, a non-profit, volunteer organization headquartered in Las Cruces, New Mexico has worked in solidarity with women’s weaving cooperatives in state of Chiapas. The organization’s goal is to assist co-op members to continue living in a sustainable and respectful way on their ancestral lands, to honor their Tzotsil language and their cultural traditions. Weaving for Justice has helped raise public awareness about social and economic justice, threats to efforts of the Chiapas weaving cooperatives and to issues of human rights in the region.

The collaboration between Weaving for Justice and the cooperatives assists weavers in finding various ways to market their products through a model of fair trade with 100% of the sale proceeds returned to the weavers.

COOPERATIVE WORK
Connecting the cooperatives with artisan groups on the US/Mexican border is one way products are marketed. Women weave to support themselves and their families. Co-op members unite around their work as weavers and common interest in issues of social and economic justice.

STOP IN FOR A VISIT
If you are in Las Cruces, NM stop in to visit La Frontera, the all-volunteer fair trade store run by Weaving for Justice. It’s located in the Nopalito’s Galería at 125 S. Mesquite St. (lafronterafairtrade@gmail.com). You will find hand-woven items from Chiapas, as well as textiles made by women from the cities of Juárez and Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico. The store is open Saturdays 9-4 during the months of November and December or by appointment (contact Christine Eber ceber@nmsu.edu).

Weaving for Justice will be on the road again, returning to Tucson in spring 2018 bringing a trunk show hosted by EXO Roast Coffee Co. (403 N 6th Ave.). This is what my community looks like. What does YOUR community look like?

 

Chiapas to Oaxaca – Textile Connections Changing Lives

For many of us a whole new world opens up when we travel. Weave A Real Peace helped two young Maya women, Claudia Pérez Pérez and Celia Arias Pérez travel from Chenalhó, Chiapas to Oaxaca for the annual meeting in June. This was only the second trip for both young women outside of Chiapas and they were deeply moved by the hugs and good feelings generated during their time with WARP members.

During our Friday meeting one of the topics we discussed was the pros and cons of outsiders wearing traditional clothing, including the huipiles of Maya tradition. Here are Claudia’s thoughts, in her own words.

We feel very comfortable when we see a foreigner wearing our blouse. We think that she isnt an egotistic woman, that she doesnt feel that she is better than us. I feel very happy to see that she wears it on her body, that she has a good heart for us. We think that she honors us, that she has great caring for us, that she gives us a lot of support.
                                                            Claudia Pérez Pérez of Tsobol Antsetik, Chiapas, México, June 2017

Both Celia and Claudia gathered ideas from our Saturday tour to several Zapotec weaving and dyeing families in Teotitlan del Valle, including new ways to talk to visitors who come to their co-op’s meeting house in Chenalhó and how they might develop a museum in their meeting house. Christine will give them a boost by returning textiles she has collected from the coop since the 80s to build a collection. I am waiting in line to share my background in museum anthropology and exhibit design – can you see my hand waving?

Upon their return to Chiapas Claudia gave an hour and a half long report on the trip. In a very Maya way she gave an hour-by-hour rundown for the entire 5 day schedule! Claudia since has taken a major step to continue her education. Since dropping out of middle school at 14 to marry she has regretted that decision, but on Saturdays she now attends a school in San Cristóbal, studying computing and English. She loves the experience and Christine is confident Claudia will become a leader of women in her community, following in her mother’s footsteps.

Celia and Claudia were a delight – new friends from Mexico to support and cherish for the work they do in their communities. Christine Eber has spent years working with the women of Chiapas and continues to offer support to them in many ways, including establishing Weaving For Justice in Las Cruses, New Mexico. We thank Christine for sharing this story of how our members create and support connected textile communities. The photos were also shared by Christine.

Celia and Claudia enjoying the Oaxaca experience.

Next month we will learn more about Weaving for Justice, a volunteer non-proift organization in Las Cruses, created to assist the members of the cooperatives in Chiapas to continue living on their ancestral lands in sustainable ways that respect their lands, language (Tsotsil), and traditions.

In the meantime, think about how you create a connected textile community – local, global or in-between and share your story with us on the WARP blog!      Judy Newland, WARP board member

 

Weaving Through a Garden

Weave a Real Peace members visited the Oaxaca botanical garden in June during the 2017 Annual Meeting

 Guest post written by Gail Ryser

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The thing that I love about visiting a botanical garden is how easily the landscapes and vistas transport you across space—to different climates and other places around the world, sometimes familiar– sometimes not. And the really cool thing about visiting an ethno-botanical garden is that you can be transported across space and time, because this kind of garden also showcases plants used by people. Such was my experience while visiting the Jardín Etnobotánico in Oaxaca City, Mexico. This city is a perfect place for such a garden; it is a UNESCO city of Culture, and is in one of the most bio-diverse regions of Mexico.

The only way to visit this garden is to be part of a guided tour. As our fabulous guide Georgina Rosas led us on winding paths through the 2 plus hectares, we learned that the creation of the garden was a collaboration between artist Francisco Toledo and anthropologist Alejandro de Ávila Blomberg; it is part of the Santa Domingo Cultural Center.

The garden is a showcase of plant diversity organized by climate zones, and of innovative and practical installation features that are prime examples of cutting edge sustainability. Renovation of the church grounds and building of the gardens included a passive rainwater catchment system that directs rainwater from the roof of adjacent buildings to an underground cistern (below a huge plaza) with a capacity of over 1 million liters. In an experimental setting a large geothermal temperature-controlled glass-greenhouse with roof access through a central stair, protects several species of plants and trees.

There is another story expressed in the plantings of the garden; one that reflects regional history and intentionally symbolizes cooperation and resistance experienced by native peoples. Domestication of corn from a grass known as Teosinte and squash began in this region around 10,000 years ago. Today, 47 of the 57 varieties of native (non-GMO) corn are in the State of Oaxaca. We are told that the garden also hosts rare and endangered species (perhaps the reason plants are not labeled). Georgina also takes us through a forest of prickly pear cacti ‘guarded’ by walls of columnar cacti. Prickly pear supports cochineal, a small insect that produces an intense red dye. The dye played a major role in the economic development of Spain during the 16th century. Only silver was a larger export from the New World to Madrid.

Thank you to Alejandro, the director of the Oaxaca Botanical Garden, for allowing WARP to use these photos.

 

Gail Ryser lives in Tucson, is an archaeologist specializing in paleoethnobotany and perishable fibers. Her research area is the central Andean coast. She is an active water-harvester, seed saver, and gardener.

PO Box 87351 Tucson, AZ 85754 glryser@gmail.com

Welcoming our 2017 Scholarship Winners!

This year, due to generous donations, WARP selected three Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship winners.

Alisa, Dakota and Nicole will be joining us for the conference in Oaxaca. Here is a preview of what we’ll learn about them in-person!

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Alisa Ruzavina

Alisa Ruzavina is a fashion/textiles designer and a Central Saint Martins student, specializing in Womenswear Design with Print. She was brought up in Moscow and is currently based in London. Here you can get a glimpse of her universe: www.alisa-ruzavina.com.

Her current interests lie in resisting fast fashion and the total digitization of design processes through detailed study, conservation and preservation of world traditional craft techniques in her own fashion work, as well as the manifestation of radical joy through the use of colour. She explores cultural, historical, archetypal, esoteric, occult and mythological artifacts and dreamscapes through elaborate surface design and textile manipulation to create a contemporary narrative with deep roots in art and craft history.

Dakota Mace

Dakota Mace is currently an MFA student at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Working both in photography and textiles, much of her work focuses on re-contextualizing the stories and deities that aspire from Navajo designs. Her MFA work is a series developed from learning traditional as well as western weaving styles to incorporate her interpretation of Navajo weaving.

Dakota writes, “The development of my work is part of a larger idea of wanting to create a bridge to understanding Native American traditional practices through nontraditional forms of art. My photographic work is a continuation of understanding my Native heritage through my lens, and through the loom I understand the connection between the weaver and the materials. The ultimate goal is to bring awareness to the development of Native American art forms and bring tradition into the Fine Arts world. Through the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship, my research will go further into understanding the aesthetics of Navajo weaving and embracing the connection between weaver and loom.”

Nicole Giacomantonio

Nicole comes from an interdisciplinary background of fine arts, art history and museum studies, and has graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Nova Scotia College of Art & Design. Since graduation, Nicole has tailored her work and education experiences to her love of the preservation and promotion of culture and heritage. She has worked as both a conservation intern and as a weaving intern at studios and private practices across North America, and has spent significant time touring museum collections. She hopes to one day apply her education and skill to the preservation and promotion of art in Canada.

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Congratulations to the 2017 scholarship winners.

This year, all 13 of the scholarship applicants received a one-year WARP membership. Thank you to all those who applied.

We look forward to having each of you in our community!