VANH HANH VIETNAMESE LION DANCERS. Photographs by Bob Smith, except where noted; courtesy of Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

Santa Fe International Folk Art Market 2012

ethnographic arts



It is a spectacle and a world bazaar, a traveler’s dreamscape, an art lover’s delight. It is the ninth annual Santa Fe International Folk Art Market (July 13 - 15, 2012), for which up to one hundred eighty master artisans from across the globe converge on Museum Hill to celebrate living culture and craft traditions. In a single day, you can watch the performance of a women’s classical dance troupe from Oman, get your groove on listening to the roots ‘n’ rhythm fusion of a band from Ghana, eat Ethiopian lamb stew, talk to a filigree jewelry artist from Mexico, photograph a Mankon weaver from Cameroon in his white-and-indigo tribal clothing, and shop for handmade folk art in every medium—wood, ceramic, glass, paper, metal, wool, and silk—from more than fifty countries. In an epoch when corporate greed and the hazards of mass-produced products swamp the news, the chance to experience another kind of wealth, in the beauty and abundance of human creativity, reconnects us to something more hopeful.

THANIYA ALMUKHAINI, a dancer with the Al Najoom Troupe from Oman.

More than forty percent of the 2012 market artisans are new participants, including craftspeople from Hungary, South Sudan, Uganda, and Vanuatu (think about where that is). Among returning favorites are basketweavers from Rwanda, beadworkers from Haiti, embroidery artists from India, potters from France, and jewelers from Niger. Everything is vetted for authenticity, quality and for its core value as an example of traditional materials, construction and design. A highlight this year, according to Judith Espinar, founder and creative director of the market, is that “it’s extremely diverse in terms of the different kinds of folk art,” giving musical instruments as an example. “Folk art is a representation of cultural values,” she explains. “When someone buys a piece of folk art, they are cherishing and passing on the voice of a community.”

A market slogan proclaims, “Change the world, one artist at a time.” Every artist has a story to tell and, with translators everywhere, multiple conversations fill the air, forging new friendships and a sense of common bonds. Many have survived war, famine and unimaginable hardship in developing countries where the average income is less than three dollars a day. Some of the artists come from cooperatives, usually of women, the most marginalized of all people. Rebecca Lolosoli, from northern Kenya, founded a village for abused and homeless women, who now sustain themselves making the vividly colorful beaded jewelry of the Samburu people. Tall and charismatic, Lolosoli brings home the meaning of finding dignity, strength and renewal through preserving a traditional craft, one of the reasons the market exists.

A MEMBER OF AGALU, the Yoruba Cultural Troupe of Nigeria’s musical group, plays one of the talking drums, made by Akeem Ayanniyi.

In fact, says Espinar, the most important transformation in the market over the years has been in the artists themselves. The economic benefits help: “Seventy-three percent of our artists have told us that education for their children is the most important thing the market has done for them,” she says. But Espinar means a deeper sort of personal transformation. She describes an artist named Ramu Devraj Harijan, a quilt maker and embroidery artist from a village in an Indian desert in the middle of nowhere. An illiterate who had never seen an airplane, after his success at the market he no longer does piecework for pennies and now has his own independent workshop that employs others. He learned to speak Hindi, the national language, and travels to markets around India. “The changes for one artist affect hundreds of other people, in his community and in the broader culture. That’s exciting.”

More events are scheduled in the week preceding the market. On July 11, author and deputy director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women and Foreign Policy program Gayle Tzemach Lemmon will speak at a benefit. In her book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, about a young Afghan woman who created jobs for women during the Taliban years, Lemmon expounds on her view that women are the unsung heroines of war-torn regions and emerging markets alike. On July 12, the visiting artists gather in their traditional regalia for a procession and community celebration in Santa Fe’s Railyard district. For that, you have to dance.



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