Oaxaca: Colors of the Land

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I’ve always had a love affair with Mexico. When I was 15, my family moved from New Guinea to Southern California, from remote mountain villages and wild nature to gridlock traffic and organized grocery stores. I found this to be overwhelming, to say the least. Baja Mexico was my “out”, a place I could visit within a few hours of driving, a place to get back in all the chaos and funky smells and bright colors that all third-world countries seem to have in common. A year after graduating from college, I taught English in the tropical port city of Veracruz, seeing a whole different side of the country through Caribbean influences, a slower pace and the tragedies of the swine u. It was in this year in Veracruz when I realized travel and cultural immersion wasn’t just my childhood, it was my great love.

To me, Mexico is de ned by color. It is a diverse country with geographic and cultural differences from north to south, east to west. Much like the United States, traditions, food, accents and style vary from state to state. But all throughout it, there is color pulsating. Buildings, art, clothing, color. As a lover of neutral, monochromatic color palettes, this always challenges my level of comfort. That much color is daring. It’s audacious living. It’s that aliveness in color, in a country that beats in color, that draws me in. I think there’s life in color. Confidence, freedom, hope.

It reminds of the attitude of Picasso, “If I don’t have red, I use blue.”

color is daring. it’s audacious living. it’s that aliveness in color, in a

country that beats in color, that draws me in.

All this color comes from nature. Combinations of plants, fruit, seeds, grasses and bugs. Mayans have been dying wool with these resources for centuries, creating vibrant shades for their clothes and home textiles. Up in a small mountain town in Oaxaca, families still practice this craft, telling the stories of their ancestors through traditional Mayan designs and colors. This remote community continues to weave from their homes with natural dyes and sheep’s wool sourced from local farmers. The designs celebrate the cycle of life, seasons, faiths and the land around them. Each family has exclusive shades of colors they’ve discovered through decades of experimenting with combinations of dyes. As with any good family recipe, the specific mix of ingredients isn’t shared with people outside their family.

This beautiful tradition still involves the every member of the family. The women clean, dye and rinse the wool in a local river, the men weave on looms in their homes and the children start learning when they’re eight or nine years old. Each generation learns the method and designs by heart, carrying on their heritage while adding their own personal versions to the family collection. Just like any family tradition, it carries the stories of each generation, each era, each family member. Weaving colors with a heart and soul.

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Ara Collective’s wool rugs are woven by the Montano family and the Mendoza family. Their stories and work will be introduced in June 2015.

Design, Travel JournalSam Fleming