The Art of Life
Who knew weaving was pure poetry of the soul?
Monica Malo Piedra did. And soon, the rest of us at IdiomArt’s weekly Art Salon understood as well.
The renowned Ecuadorian artist and CIDAP award winner recently took a group of weaving newbies on a spellbinding anthropological and history journey. It’s safe to say; those in attendance will never look at a square of fabric or brilliant tapestry the same again.
The native Cuencana has been creating fabric masterpieces for more than 30 years. She learned first, from her mother, who taught herself to shear sheep and researched designs from magazines to incorporate into weavings.
But Monica wanted to create her own designs. She began to teach herself, experimenting with materials and observing others. Eventually she moved into the jungle where she spent five years embracing the history and talent of the Schuar people.
“It was like my soul connected with their weaving,” she said, through translator and host Berenice Cárdenas, a local art historian and curator.
In the jungle, Monica had a woodworker create her first loom of four simple sticks. She learned new ways to weave and began experimenting with colors. A Uruguayan
professor later taught her loom weaving techniques and she began to “play,” she said.
Monica read constantly. She absorbed all she could about techniques, fabrics and dyes, and found herself drawn to history and anthropology. She deeply believed that to understand and create textiles, she had to understand the indigenous people’s history, and their way of living and thinking first.
For the next 15 years, she lived a simple life in Susadel. She began to work with the women of the community, many of whom had given up the skill of weaving to men. While the women gathered and prepared the materials from animals and plants, it was primarily the men who were using the threads to create woven textiles.
“I needed to recover the ancient memories,” she said, by reminding the women of their pre-Colombian roots.
Still, the collective self-esteem of the women of the village was so low; it took time to convince them to experiment with the threads they created. Soon, the older women were recounting history, remembering their grandparents, recalling childhood incidents and sharing their histories with each other. Young women joined the group and even men participated.
“It was very interesting to see what the women did in their weaving. Houses, flowers, domestic things, encrypted in ancient symbols, began to emerge through their memories,” she said. “The men created condors, large animals, donkeys, all images they worked with in daily life.”
The project blossomed as Monica and a friend raised money for looms and hosted workshops to share techniques.
“It was an empowering process for the women,” she recalled.
Monica continued her mission when she left Susadel and moved to Riobamba. There she created weaving groups of all ages of women who were “recovering their essence” through their work.
For the next hour, Monica taught us about plants and insects that produce vibrant dyes. She educated us about how lunar phases and water affect plants to such a degree that the same hue is rarely replicated. We learned the differences between threads woven of the hair of llama, alpaca, vicuña, and even bats. We found that, with keen observation, we could identify the heritage of any indigenous group simply by the woven clothing they wore.
Ultimately, she said, textiles are not just a piece of cloth.
“When you see a tactile piece, look beyond the image, colors and fabric,” she said. “Think about the raising of the animals or plants that produced the thread.”
Consider the relationship of the work to what surrounded the artist, she said. For instance, an evening star to a Navajo weaving friend was the North Star, but that same celestial sight is Venus to Ecuadorian artists who do not have the same night sky.
As a young girl, a wise man told her: “Those who know how to weave know the art of life.” She never fully understood that sentiment, Monica said, until she spent years among indigenous populations absorbing their craft.
“The yarn – the warp – is like a house without structure. The weaving creates the strength of the structure. And, like life, you can change it, take it apart, and rebuild it,” she said.
Part historian, part anthropologist, and all artist, Monica ended her presentation with a poetic philosophy. Clearly, for Monica, weaving is a metaphor for life.
“Words are threads wove between human beings,” she said. “Society is an immense fabric made from the need for communication, equal reception and solidarity among individuals.”
Monica’s new gallery is expected to open mid-month in the San Sebastian neighborhood. IdiomArt’s weekly Art Salon features a wide range of art-related talks and presentations each Friday at 10:30 a.m. IdiomArt is in El Centro, at Presidente Cordova 1-77 between Manuel Vega and Miguel Angel Estrella. Art Salons are $10 and reservations are not required. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.