Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mola traditions, mola changes

I've been buying molas from the Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands of Panama since 1999. I search out the best examples of this fascinating reverse-applique textile art. I've brought home many spectacular molas, and I've had the chance, in these 12 years, to observe the traditions and changes in this art.

Sea urchins or sugar cane?
People so often think of ethnic arts as unchanging. No so. With each trip, I find that the themes of the molas have undergone rapid transformation. This trip was heavy on geometrics and biblical themes. Scarcely an animal to be found! The colors change as well. I saw some yellows, an unfortunate shade of pink and quite a bit of lightish blue.

I see changes in the quality, as well. That, unfortunately, trends downward over the years, The lines are wider, the dentitions are bigger, and the sewing is more visible than it used to be. On this trip. for the first time, someone tied this devolution to the fact that girls now go to school; they have less time to practice their traditional arts in the formative years. What a dilemma! The women have little choice about their life direction without education; if they focus on their education, however, then they have less opportunity to make money from their traditional arts. Many women simply make tourist-grade molas, which eliminate the complex cutwork.

Another marked change is that the women are less able to tell me about the meaning of the images. Many of them could only tell me that a motif was old, but not what it was. Then, of course, we have the standard issue; one woman says a motif represents one thing, and another says the same image represents something else entirely! This is the case, for example, with sea urchins and sugar cane.

It takes about 3 weeks to prep the molas. I still have to separate several of them from the blouses, pick threads from most, clean, classify, grade, sort, photograph and code. I'll let people know when the molas are going to hit the website.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Making the transition

We’ve been hard at work repositioning Crossroads Trade as an all-web business. We have a completely redesigned, searchable web site, with new offerings added constantly. We also have a growing presence on EBay’s World of Good. Our site there is also searchable, and you can add our entries to your RSS feed.

Our Facebook page is all new, too. Here you’ll find news of our products and buying trips, and thoughts on and analysis of the complex world of fair-trade commerce.

Look for this blog and our Twitter feed to become more active. We want you to have several ports of access to our fairly traded ethnic arts of the world.

-- Lisa Deeley Smith