Sunday, July 11, 2010

Folk Art Fest

The crowds are always thick and the day always burns hot and bright, but I hardly notice. The scope and quality of the goods on display at the yearly Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival is worth whatever minor headache comes from putting up with the throng. Every year, I am blown away by how many artists from countries whose names we either only hear on the nightly news in association with horror and strife, marginalize as being of little importance, or have never even heard of at all, nonetheless persist in applying themselves to creating objects of beauty.

Silver cuff by Mousssa Albaka (Niger)

Wish I could have afforded it.

Albaka is a towering Tuareg nomad, regal and laconic in his deep purple robes, who produces stunning silver-smithed jewelry from a pencil point place at the edge of the Saharan desert so remote, he could have just as likely arrived here from Mars. I couldn't stop staring at him, he was so fabulous-looking.

Counted cross-stitch pillow by members of a Palestinian collective.

How strange was it to walk into the Afghanistan and Palestinian booths and realize that I had something in common with these artists? Each of us are embroiderers that utilize a counted thread technique, although their work far and away outshines mine. Pillows like the one above were going for around $100, shawls for about $80—a pittance given the time and skill that go into them.

Blue ceramic Rishtan plate, Rustam Usmanov and Damir Usmanov (Uzbekistan)

This photo doesn't even begin to do justice to these ceramics. They are incredibly intricate in their design, flawlessly executed, and so beautiful, they made my fingers itch.

As did these carpets by Fatullo Kendjaev. Who knew? If I ever get rich, fuggedabout the Turks; I'm snagging me a houseful of Uzbekistani carpets.

In fact, I'd have to say the Uzbekis were the stars of the market, excelling in embroidery, carpet weaving, ceramics, jewelry making, painting, and chest-making.

But there were reminders, too, of just how far some of these countries have to go in matters more practical and political than artistic.

When I finally caught up with Elizabeth Savanhu, master of Zimbabwean applique quilts, she greeted me with her usual exuberance and then proceeded to tell me about yet another gut punch to her country. Thanks to irresponsible men who refuse to remain faithful to their wives and a superstitious people who put their faith in witchdoctors instead of western medicine, Zimbabwe is slowly being ravaged by HIV. Out of Elizabeth's nine siblings, six are HIV-positive, and along with her own four children, she is also caring for two HIV-positive children out of the many orphaned in her village. Hanging behind her this year were two huge quilts illustrating the problem, their exuberant colors and cartoon-like composition a stark contrast to the grim reality of the story.

And in the last booth I visited that day, I met Rebecca Lolosoli, who was raised in the Samburu tribe of northern Kenya, which is renowned not only for its colorful bead work, but for the ingrained cycle of violence perpetuated by many of the native men against their women. To combat this abuse, Lolosoli secretly purchased a parcel of land outside her village to serve as a woman-only sanctuary for those escaping physical abuse and seeking economic independence. To support themselves, they utilize their tribe's age-old traditional beading techniques to fashion jewelry and baskets for sale at markets around the world.

I bought the cuff on the left.

And this, too:

"Adam and Eve" repoussé on recycled aluminum, Toyin Folorunso (Nigeria)

Adam and Eve? Of course, I had to have it.

I'm not naive enough to believe that a country as hellish as Nigeria can be saved by its artists, but I am heartened to know that at least the impulse to create is as strong as the impulse to destroy. Maybe one day, it will win out.


Bretthead said...

Wow. It must have been difficult for you to not buy buy buy. Cool stuff and helping people that really need it.

Did you eat spicey new mexican breakfast at that great place right on the square?

Sharon Rudd said...

What gorgeous artwork! What heart-wrenching stories! Thanks for sharing, and amen to the thoughts with which you closed your post.

Jenny said...

I love your tag. Can't agree with you more. You can give my MIL credit, because she bought (and bought) folk/local art on every one of her trips. I've had the pleasure of seeing some truly amazing pieces of work while going through her Estate. Good buy on the cuff. I know you'll wear it perfectly.

Pam said...

I love the pics; would love to have seen pics of the market itself. In a time when it is hard to buy "local" crafts, knowing these folks traveled all the way to your area is very impressive. Very cool stuff and I would have wanted that aluminum Adam & Eve "?" also ... what do you call that type of art?

moi said...

WTWA: No, I ate at home before driving up. Had a great African peanut curry/spinach/plantain dish once I got there, though.

Eggplant: So many problems, few solutions. I blame government and religion, mostly.

Boxer: Girl, my parents were folk music junkies: Brother Four, New Christy Minstrels, Nancy Aimes, Joan Baez. That sound is forever etched in my brain, but like Cracker says: "What the world needs now is another folks singer, like I need a hole in my head."

Pam: The material is recycled aluminum, and the artist stamps the pattern on in a process called repoussé.

Big Shamu said...

A big chunk of me is envious but a big chunk of my checkbook is glad this doesn't travel to my town. So beautiful.

Heff said...

Silver's Purty.

But for some reason, I like BRASS more.

Pam said...

Visual haiku theme for this week - Gulf of Mexico and/or the oil spill .... finally pulling my head out to deal with the issue!

chickory said...

i wish a show like this would come to georgia. you did a good thing buying those least art is an independent means of getting money -dependent on no one other than self. the blue plate from uzebekistan was my favorite. and YES that pillow is a pittance. insane. how is it the artists are able to travel here? why dont some of them just stay? i would have loved to tour this show with you. very enjoyable post.

moi said...

Shamu: I think I showed amazing restraint, although you can bet I was frantically doing the math for one of those Uzbekistani carpets. In the end, it didn't add up. I don't relish eating only cocktail weenies for the rest of the year.

Heff: Lots of that there, too.

Pam: La, la, la, la, la.

Chickory: Some of the artists pay their own way (or their countries/cooperatives pay), and many are sponsored in full or in part by festival volunteers, which number in the hundreds. Those folks do an amazing job. So, here's an idea: visit Moi next year for the festival. You can bet we'll have a grand time!

Big Shamu said...

You should definitely get the rug but before you start inviting Chickory to come visit, make sure you know if Koby is coming too or you might end up being one rug short and one dog heavy.

LaDivaCucina said...

What a cool festival! I love all the photos you posted and the fact that you actually talk to the vendors and hear their stories. The problem with AIDS in Africa is pretty common, unfortunately. I loathe folk music too! haha! Puff the Magic Dragon makes me want to hurl! Great post, Moi and of course, very well written.