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Woven Lives: Contemporary Textiles from Ancient Oaxacan Traditions cover photo

Woven Lives: Contemporary Textiles from Ancient Oaxacan Traditions 2011


Distributed by Films Media Group, 132 West 31st St., 17th Floor, New York, NY 10001; 800-257-5126
Producer n/a
Directed by Carolyn Kallenborn
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
Anthropology, Business, Design, Free Trade, Plants, Sustainable Living, Textiles, Weaving

Date Entered: 10/30/2013

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

Living primarily in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, the indigenous Zapotec people have a long and rich cultural heritage. Pre-Columbian archaeological evidence, including examples of building architecture and design, clay figures, sculpture, and gold jewelry, display a sophisticated blend of art and technique. Contemporary textile production is an especially strong link to this past, with many Zapotec families and communities throughout the Valley of Oaxaca still actively engaged in the traditional craft and enterprise of weaving.

Filmmaker Kallenborn, a design studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a fabric artist herself, provides a captivating and colorful look at the Oaxacan artisans and their work. In Zapotec culture, both men and women produce the textiles for which the region is known, with distinctive skills and complex styles passed through families to the next generation. The film looks at weavers from six different regions within the valley and shows how each uses ancient and modern techniques to produce functional pieces of clothing and beautiful works of art. The use of natural dyes, including characteristic deep indigo blues and bright cochineal reds that are made from local plants, minerals and insects comprises one chapter. In other sections, local experts provide detailed information on carding and spinning wool and silk yarn, backstrap and other looms, the use of shuttles, weaving cooperatives, and sustainable manufacturing practices. Well-chosen regional music and landscape photography accompany the narration. The makers and the markets for these products makes an interesting subject that students in textile design and manufacturing programs will find informative. Recommended.