In March 2019, a series of creativity-building workshops, the core part of the project, was conducted in Panajachel, Guatemala. These woven bracelets and belt were 3 out of 8 pieces created during the workshops. The 15 indigenous artisan women from the communities of Santiago Atitlán and San Antonio are the designers, weavers, and storytellers.
“We put a heart because we love our town and our country. And this means the lake and the fish inside. And this color means summer for us. And here, you see a woman standing on the ground. This huipil is the costume of Santiago Atitlán and the coast too, it is the most typical. Like when one has their heart like that, full of peace. The people of Santiago Atitlán always use this color, white, in the huipil. And the red, too.”
“Red means love, orange flowers. The purple, I just love it a lot. And it is like the sky. And this color is from the memory of the object my grandmother left me. The red is from the object that my grandmother gave me and I love her very much.”
“My design starts with a brown color because of the type of land we have in San Antonio, in autumn or spring. The green color reflects nature around Lake Atitlán. The red that we use for life and also when there is an eclipse, here we see between the volcano Santiago and San Pedro reflects very well the silhouette of the eclipse. The orange that means the sunsets and the volcanoes. ”
A lecture was delivered by an anthropologist who works at Museo Ixchel in Guatemala City. The content covered the origin of weaving culture in Guatemala, the evolving of textile style through history and the significance of symbols and color in the patterns. A casual discussion was held after the lecture, where student fellows and artisans had conversations about the lecture, design and weaving culture.
Artisans shared the stories and meaning of the object to each other and to student fellows. A worksheet was used to collect their stories. Student fellows shared their understanding of the process of abstraction to artisans and held a discussion about weaving culture in different regions. After the presentation, student fellows and artisans completed an exercise together about interpreting emotions through drawing.
The artisans then individually designed their pieces on paper, the Santiago Atitlán community designed belts and the San Antonio community designed bracelets individually. They were inspired by the activities that took place beforehand.
After each artisan’s design was complete, we put them together and presented the significance behind their creative decisions. Artisans spent hours weaving their final pieces. Finally, each artisan recorded the meaning of their design, took photographs with their work, and a final celebration party with lunch was shared by all!
Worksheets were designed with a scaffolding of the design process in mind. Artisans sometimes design their own pieces, but they don’t use the same process as US-based designers. These worksheets allowed them to communicate their ideas, make changes, and get feedback before weaving their chosen designs.
The craft sector is the second largest employer in the developing world, and yet the majority of artisans are living in poverty. The overall western model of globalized employment both exploits artisan ability to weave quality products while also erasing indigenous traditions of textile design and storytelling. We position our project (the grey area of the diagram below) as an add-on of our partner organization's current empowerment model, utilizing their existing resources and facilities. Check out the research journey of this project >>>
Every community around the lake has their unique culture. We didn't know the exact culture and creative process of the selected artisan communities before the workshop. To overcome these limitations, after each workshop session, we reflected and discussed our daily learnings together and tweaked the next day’s workshop plan proactively to achieve better outcomes.
Indigenous artisans don’t use drawings to communicate their designs. Instead, they work directly on the loom when designing the piece. This is distinct from the creative process from the western design context. In the workshop, artisans were encouraged to use drawings to design their pieces, before weaving on the loom, which is a more western approach. The exercise was well-received and we found that the pieces they designed had a slightly different style compared with what they made with their own creative process. In retrospect, we wondered what could have happened if they used their creative process in the designs?
A few artisan participants were not able to participate in activities that required writing, which discouraged their participation. We also observed that artisans with higher education levels tended to talk more and sometimes spoke as the representative and authority of the group. In the future, we should take these situations into consideration and design activities that allow equal participation of artisans with varied literacy levels.