all images from envia.org
Today we are back from Oaxaca, Mexico with wide dreamy eyes, and backpacks full of handmade treasures (and sand). We spent the last week as one might imagine (or perhaps, not imagine at all) a week in rural, urban and beach hugging parts of southern Mexico... sort of unlearning everything we assume about the human race, and modern living. We had a fantastic time and met people we couldn't have made up if we tried. We spent a few days wandering the more touristy Oaxaca City, visiting galleries, artist co-operatives, and museums, then traveled to a tiny town on the coast called Mazunte, where we spent a few days doing yoga, hiking, viewing sunsets, floating in the Pacific, drinking fresh squeezed juice, singing, attempting better Spanish, and swinging in hammocks. Then we went back to the city to meet up with a very cool organization called En Via, which is a non-profit giving micro-financing loans to women starting small craft businesses to pull themselves out of poverty. Part of the agreement in getting their loans is that these woman have to present to a small group of people in their studios, so we had the invaluable chance to visit weavers, leather workers, yarn dyers, a tortilla maker and a hot corn drink brewer (the latter is a grandmother, who gets up at 4am each morning, brews, and rides a tricycle around her small village hocking her wares out of a large thermos door-to-door. I will never complain about driving to a craft fair one day a week again). We learned about dying fibers with natural materials (nuts, fruits, plants, beetles, flowers...) and the arm muscles needed to press 150 tortillas a day. A woman and her daughter in law showed us the looms they weave rugs on - some parts carved by hand. They come up with their own designs, and often weave intricate patterns from memory. I knew I would see beautiful things in Oaxaca - it's why we went, really. And the community delivered. But aside from the expected art, we found the artists, who choose despite poverty and circumstance to use their business loans to start craft businesses over any other type.
Perhaps it's what sells, and I read too much into it, but I felt a deep sense of respect for the way art is embraced and encouraged by the community and as an industry. Tourist-driven or not, I'd rather see tourists drooling over hand-embroidery than machine made plastic trinkets any day.
In a small museum in central Oaxaca City, sits a collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts from a culture who did not have running water, refrigeration, modern medicine, proper tools or easy access to food in any way. A busy life of survival, that somehow still included pottery, spiritual figurines, hunting weapons, incense burners, and toys decorated with such astonishing creativity and detail that you might mistake them for being materialistic or frivolous rather than necessary household items. Creativity for the sake of celebrating life? Well crap. It's almost like art... is important.
And with that... Spring break is complete.