Artist or Artisan Made?

Posted by Chantale Breceda on

Let’s talk about the word artisan. 

I think for most people who do what I do, that is, work with indigenous people in Latin America who make items using their traditional techniques, incorporating traditional designs, using the materials that can be grown, collected and harvested on their traditional lands, we are accustomed to using the word artisan to describe the makers of these items.
However, what if that item were an argillite pendant made by a Haida person on British Columbia’s north coast? What if that item were a wool rug or blanket made by a Diné (Navajo) person in New Mexico? Would you call that person an artisan? Or would they more likely be referred to as an artist?
We at LUZ Collection feels that the word artisan devalues the work being produced by the artists we work with, and that’s why you won’t see it on our website or in our marketing materials. We believe that the skills required to weave a wool rug in Teotitlán del Valle in Oaxaca are absolutely equal to the skills of Diné weavers engaged in the same artistic practice. 
We must also consider the economic discrepancies between the US, Canada and Mexico, the reasons for which are too complex to delve into here, but can be assumed also to contribute to the undervaluation of the work done by artists in Mexico versus similar work being done by artists practicing indigenous artistic traditions in the US and Canada.
Are the skills of a Wixárika beadworker in the Mexican state of Nayarit any less impressive than those of a Lakota beadworker in South Dakota, or is it primarily the the economic value applied to such work that contributes to the value we assign it in the marketplace? To be sure, of course, in many cases the work of the Lakota beadworker will also be undervalued, however, its relative value in marketplace will almost always be higher than that of the Wixárika artist.
Our goal here, at LUZ Collection, is to strive towards parity in the value applied to all indigenous artistic traditions across Turtle Island. This means elevating the value of work created by indigenous people of the lands now collectively known as Mexico. In order to do so, we begin by paying higher prices for the work we acquire when we feel that the artists themselves are undervaluing their work due to the economic pressure to sell that work.
Eventually, we would like to foster collaboration between artists from diverse indigenous backgrounds as a means to develop dialogue and innovation for these artists and their practices. More to come on that soon. 
For now, I'll close by just asking you to consider when was the last time you thought about the indigeneity of the original peoples of the territory now known as Mexico and whether you view them as relatives of, or distinct from, the original peoples of the territories now know as the US and Canada. The answer may illuminate certain commonly held biases, that you won't often seen dispelled within the framework of a capitalist marketplace, which, whether we like it or not, we are all now required to operate within. 
Image is of my friend Bacilia Muñoz, a Wixárika beadwork and textile artist from Nayarit.

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