Archive for June, 2009
Since arriving in San Lucas Toliman, all seven of us (Sandra, Rebecca, Larissa, Alex, Justine, Pascale, and Moira) have been very excited and eager to work with the women. The first day, we had introductions on both sides and sharing of ourselves and our work. we then began with having each woman pick her favorite item that she had made, and explain why she liked it. We all offered comments and constructive criticism while still encouraging each woman’s work, which was absolutely beautiful.
After all the women had their turn, it was our turn to share bags and things we had experimented with before coming to San Lucas. The women commented on and critiqued our bags and it was wonderful to hear their opinions and what they liked and see new and different ideas form.
The next day we brought a series of different inspiration images we had collected with different colors, shapes, patterns, and more. By sharing these images, we hoped to show the women some of our design process. The women responded very positively and openly, finding images they enjoyed, laughing at others, and each picked out a few of their favorites. They explained what they liked about the pictures then began to work. It was amazing to see how each woman interpreted the inspiration photos differently, and developed it into their weaving.
As we are continuing, we are working with the women on experimenting with different colors, shapes, patterns, bags, and more. Here are a few photos of the women during the weaving processes.
The work in Santiago Zamora continued with the women taking us for a walk up to see Bernarda’s plot of land, which her family rents and she works on with her husband and sons. She led the way with her sharp machete through fields and fields of beautiful fertile land on which were planted corn, avocado trees, peanuts, and “jocote” trees.
The walk and our conversations were again documented in video by several of the women who took turns recording with two of our video cameras. After returning to Lucia’s home (our usual gathering place) we trained them to charge the camera’s battery and to change the video tapes, and we left one camera with them to continue capturing their lives.
It has been a challenge to get the women to really talk about their lives in front of the camera. Most of the stories they have shared on tape are ghost stories, or myths and legends from Santiago and San Antonio. We are hoping that leaving the cameras with them will encourage them to open up a bit and to share what they share with us off camera, for the media project.
We kicked off our work in Santiago Zamora by working with the community to create a video of who they are, what their town is about, and what they want to share about their culture and traditions. This activity has been great in helping strengthen the group (they were not already a group, but were brought together by the municipality to work with us), and in establishing trust between our team of students and faculty and the community (by teaching them video skills as well as showing interest in their stories and everyday lives.) The final piece will be a combination of footage shot by us, by them, as well as photos taken by the kids from a kids with camera workshop that our students are teaching this week.
The women established what they wanted to capture for the documentary. Last Wednesday we videotaped their traditional cooking of pepian and tortilla-making. This past Monday, the focus was dancing,
and a walking tour of their town, and all of the camera work was done by them. This morning we went on a hike with them to chop wood and see their land, and on Friday we will finalize all the video taping with the women demonstrating their artisan crafts: weaving (on the backstrap looom as well as with palm leaves) and doll making.
Stay tuned for the final piece!
Last year we conducted a participatory photography project with the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a. Seven compaÃ±eras were given disposable cameras in order to capture images representing their hopes and fears. After taking the photographs, the women used the pictures to reflect on their desires and concerns within the context of their collaboration with The New School.
Although we had spent six days a week for a month with Ajkem’a Loy’a, the photography project gave us a deeper understanding of them as individuals and allowed us to take a peep into their intimate worlds.
In collaboration with one of our students, we selected, printed and framed some of the best photographs taken by the women and curated an exhibition. It was such a powerful experience to come back to San Lucas Toliman and be able to welcome the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a with an exhibition of their art.
Sonia’s self-portrait representing her fear that her mother would sell her to another house because they couldn’t afford her.
Telma’s picture of her 89 year old mother weaving, representing her hope to be a strong woman.
Gloria’s portrait of a fisherman in Lake Atitlan, representing the customs and traditions of her community.
This video was edited by one of our students with footage shot mainly by our collaborators in Santiago Zamora. It was a storytelling warm-up about their community via the 5 senses, for the larger media project we are working on together.
Pascale and 5 Parsons students who will be focusing on the development of new products with Ajkem’a Loy’a have arrived to San Lucas and they will continue blogging from there keeping us updated! Some of the things they will work on – critiquing current designs, building on what has been done to adapt towards new products, tags for products, an online and print catalogue, a website for Ajkem’a Loy’a, and finally, helping them setup the new computers which were donated to the association and which they want to use to further support their work and to serve as another way to generate income (by renting them, or teaching computer classes.)
Per Ajkem’a Loy’a’s request, on Sunday afternoon students led a workshop which focused on exporting. The workshop was divided into three parts. The first, focused on what needs to be in place before exporting begins (high quality products, a clear print and online catalogue with styles and prices, communications, and specific people who will be in charge of the various aspects. To enforce this aspect of communication, students led a game of “Operator” where the first person “placed” an order, and it went around the entire group. At the end the order had changed (from an original 10 blue and green scarves and 5 napkins, to just 10 blue scarves) and was a very effective way of presenting how critical communication was in the success of their business.
When discussing a potential product catalogue, we shared the print catalogue from Lema, another weaving association on Lake Atitlan. Some of the details critiqued included: the prices are listed with a “K” (instead of “Q” for quetzal), and the products are not shown on the body.
Then, students discussed receiving and fulfilling an order. Here, it is critical that Ajkem’a Loy’a know exactly how much time they would need to fulfill an order, if the items are not yet in their inventory. They also discussed various ways of shipping. For this particular point, we are also doing additional research in organizations or people who may be able to support Ajkem’a Loy’a in Guatemala once they are ready to export (Agexport and the Ministry for the Economy are two such organizations they should contact.) Finally, we talked about tracking a shipment to make sure it arrived where it needed to.
Lesson learned from the project: only what is truly designed collaboratively remained in the artisan women’s group a year after the project began. In summer 2008 a team of students redesigned Ajkem’a Loy’a’s store in San Lucas Toliman. Although they worked carefully with the artisan women, it was not a true collaboration, and perhaps this is the reason they never really “owned” the store’s redesign and the work that went into it.
Since last year, the group has left the store they were in and are now occupying a fairly small and dark space in the Sandra’s (the association’s president) home. Today we helped them hang the sign in front of the store so that there is some public visibility for passersby, but the work that had been done in terms of layout and hierarchy of products has been lost.
We reemphasized many of last year’s points today with the women, but only time will tell if they will actually take our comments to heart.
All this being said, no work is lost, and even if as a learning experience, we have all learned from this failed attempt to have Ajkem’a Loy’a truly turn a rented storefront into their own.
Every time I travel with a team of students for an international project, I truly believe that group could never be surpassed in their energy, skills, support for one another, and eagerness to learn. I have, again, been proven wrong. This year’s team is yet another superb group of students from Parsons, Milano, and the graduate program in International Affairs who are absolutely dedicated to the work we have come to do, are ready to face new challenges, and are so supportive of one another and our collaborators that I am continuously proud of them.
This photo of a part of our team captures our presence. We stick out in the villages in which we are working, and yet we do it with such coolness, and our feet on the ground, that we are able to feel at home, and eager to connect with everyday life.