From the plains of Africa to war-torn countries in the Middle East, nearly 200 artists from around the world will be showing off their traditional crafts during the world's largest folk art market.
The International Folk Art Market, now in its 13th year, will feature wares from every corner of the globe, whether fine embroidery or handwoven baskets. Artists from more than 60 countries will help kick off the festivities that run Friday evening through Sunday on Santa Fe's Museum Hill. Some 20,000 visitors are expected.
This year marks an opportunity to celebrate differences despite ongoing strife around the globe, organizers said.
"Now that we're in this situation where the country and the world are more divided than ever, we are bringing more people from different cultures together," co-founder and author Carmella Padilla said. "More people are coming together than ever with what they have in common, with what they value most in many ways — traditions and handmade beautiful work that are expressions of their culture."
Infused in the market is a creative spirit that seems to erase the negativity that has dominated global headlines, Padilla said.
Judy Espinar, another co-founder and folk art expert, described the event as "an antidote" for what's ailing the world. She says the participating artists might be bound by language or political barriers, but their work provides a new kind of language that helps them relate to one another and to collectors.
About 850 folk artists from more than 90 countries have participated since the market's inception. Sales have totaled $23 million, nearly all of which has gone home with the artists to help with basic needs and countless community improvement projects.
More than 700 artists applied to be part of the market this year. Two panels of experts pore over the applications to select the best work. Even though fewer than 200 were chosen, organizers say many of the artists represent cooperatives that are made up of thousands of people.
Among the artists is a cooperative of women in Guatemala that has put a modern, more sustainable twist on the Mayan tradition of textiles. Instead of raising sheep or buying wool, the women are using recycled T-shirts, sweatshirts and other clothing to fashion hooked rugs featuring traditional designs.
Since the cotton remnants are cheaper than wool, the women have been able to use the profits from their work to replace tattered cloth window covering with glass and iron bars. One was able to bring a water pipe to her kitchen and buy a cast sink to wash the family's clothing.
In Afghanistan, a tradition of fine embroidery that was almost lost in the days of the Taliban has been revived with the help of artist Rangina Hamidi. The society she founded now serves as a way for women to safely support their families and provide funds for literacy, health care and other training.
There are also women in Rwanda making peace baskets, those in Laos producing silk weavings and those in the rain forest of Panama who use the sacred black palm tree to craft baskets, with the proceeds going to reclaiming their traditional lands.
Some works are affordable. Others are museum-quality masterpieces. Almost all are inspired by customs that date back centuries and in some cases, thousands of years.
"In telling their stories, they have come to learn the world is interested in them," Espinar said. "It's not because they're odd or different. This is because of beauty and meaning. Those are the two things we can't get enough of."
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