Traditional weaving cultures in a global market: The case of Zapotec weavers

by Mark Joseph O'Connell


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. This article 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. The methodology employed is an object-based exploration of a Zapotec weaving. Fieldwork was conducted in the winter of 2019. It included an ethnographic observation of master Zapotec weavers within their ateliers; an observation of the original design inspirations at pre-Columbian architectural sites; artefact observation at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca; as well as practice-led natural dye research. 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.

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