Visiting the Studios of Zapotec Weavers in Santa Ana del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico

Carpets woven in Mexico today use design elements found at historical sites in the vicinity of their manufacture, and local indigenous weaving techniques function within an unbroken line of traditional familial wisdom. The weaving culture of the Zapotec Nation of Oaxaca now exists at the juncture of multivalent competing visual, economic and cultural mediators, which makes for a compelling case study to examine the impacts of globalization, as well as the preservation of creative and cultural autonomy. Textile weaving is a natural site for the study of political agency and “cultural citizenship”, as it functions within a structure that safeguards traditional knowledge, as well as collectivizes local labourers within production flows. This essay describes site visits to Zapotec weaving ateliers, and also examines the history of Zapotec weaving traditions, and contemporary community engagement within these (now globalized) processes. Methodology employed is a grounded theory approach, one that draws upon existing quantitative data pertaining to the evolution of the global market for Zapotec weaving and the commensurate systems of production and distribution. As well as fieldwork that was conducted in the winter of 2019 that included an ethnographic observation of master Zapotec weavers within their weaving communities, observation of the original design inspirations at pre-Columbian architectural sites, artifact observation at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and practice-led natural dye research. It also looks at the politics and challenges of producing and marketing distinctive traditional crafts within a world marketplace that is actively engaged in the appropriation and plagiarization of indigenous artistry.

As part of my ongoing research into fashion sustainability and ethical capitalism, I visited the village of Santa Ana del Valle in the Tlacolula region of Oaxaca, Mexico. The Santa Ana weavers supply the famous weaving town of Teotitlan del Valle with weavings, as well as clients in the American Southwest, the master weavers also work on custom orders for an international clientele. The weavers I visited were independent contractors who took on large commissioned weaving orders for their client base, and also produced larger editions of woven carpets with traditional Zapotec motifs. The dyestuffs used were a combination of natural and synthetic. Some of the carpets derived their colours entirely from the colour of the wool, others employed exclusively cochineal and indigo in a range of tints, shades and hues.

Master Weaver Sra. Macedonia Martinez Lopez working on an intricately woven cotton rebozo (shawl) in the Santa Ana Del Valle Centro Artesenal.

Studio visit with the Valeriano family of master weavers

Studio visit with master weaver Ernesto Martinez

Studio visit with master weaver Alberto Sanchez

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