"Women weave themselves"

Celeste Valero: "Women weave themselves"

Celeste Valero is a fourth generation weaver. At just 26 years old, she leads the project Textiles Andinos, which today brings together 100 artisans. The original idea was to connect Jujuy communities with the government of the province to give space and provide value to ancient work.

What was it that prompted you to create Textiles Andinos?
I noticed that there was a lot of wisdom and passion for the loom, but there was no type of organization around it. I thought of my parents, my mother is a benchmark for the backstrap loom and my father for the pedal loom and Jujuy’s ponchos. We had that knowledge, but a certain structure had to be created so that our ancient techniques could grow and not be forgotten. For three years we opened the doors to our house every day, and while my mother trained in the backstrap loom technique and weaving with two and five needles, I dedicated myself to looking for people who were interested in taking up the trade. In 2016, Qenqo emerged, a group of 10 artisans who are mothers and widows and needed a source of income. We provided the space for the sales and the workshops and I also developed a web page to make the project visible. All of this was done free of charge, in order to provide these women with tools to be able to work. Bringing this knowledge closer to them was a way of empowering them and giving value to their work.

What about the process of bringing different communities together?
Nowadays, Textiles Andinos groups approximately 100 artisans from different communities of Jujuy, In 2018 they called me to train other communities, because men and women were abandoning textile art to dedicate themselves to other fields, such as the hospitality and gastronomic industries. Later, they requested the same but for the younger generations. Although they showed some resistance at the beginning - because this type of fabric demands a lot of patience and connection with the earth, something that is contrary to today’s rythm - they were drawn in because they saw it as a job opportunity. I collaborated with seven communities, training more than 200 people and looking for funds to get everything from looms, to textile fibers so that they could work. At first I was always joined by my parents, but later decided to go on my own.

What do you feel when you come in contact with the threads and the llama fiber?
I need to touch it, feel how it vibrates, in order to know what I'm going to do with it, smell it, bring it close to my skin ... All of this connects me with the llama, which is a wonderful giver that I thank because it has served as our resource for so many years. I have a lot of admiration for the animal and its environment and, above all, a lot of gratitude and respect. I am convinced that women weave themselves, by the amount of things they put into each piece they weave: their feelings, their history. Each garment directly represents that artisan. That is why it is so important that this is respected when the piece is sold, because these people are in charge of transmitting who made it, with what techniques and in what place. It is not a simple product. These pieces have emotional value, and we make them collectively. All of us help each other, we share dyes, we teach one another different points ... All of this unites us and teaches us to be kinder.

What would you like to see happen with Latin American crafts?
I would like those parallel worlds, that of fashion and that of artisan communities, to not only be shown as a photo to the world, but also reflect what is generated between designers and artisans. I want to believe that we can create a bond where interest is genuine; I want us to avoid haggling, which means devaluing our work. Making a ruana takes 170 hours, for example, because artisan work is not mass-produced. At the same time, I aspire for artisans to open ourselves to the knowledge of designers. I would like for us to become one big network.

-Your favorite place in Argentina? Jujuy. Specifically, a spring in the town of Casabindo located on the border with Bolivia.
-A little place to eat? Pachamanka, in the city of Humahuaca.
-What food would you recommend trying to those who visit Jujuy? Purple corn api with cheesecake. The api is a creamy drink with a sweet taste and combined with the salty cake it is delicious.
-A hotel to stay in? Solar del Trópico: it is in the middle of nature in Huacalera, Jujuy.
-Your favorite Argentine handicraft? The poncho.
-A favorite destination in Latin America? I would love to get to know Mexico.
-A fair in which you would like to show your things? In La Rural, Buenos Aires.
-Your favorite materials and techniques? The comb loom.
-A Latin American person who inspires you? Elvira Espejo Ayca. She is a visual artist, weaver and narrator of Bolivian tradition.
-What is artisanal design in a nutshell? It is the connection with oneself, with the earth and with its people. It is like the threads themselves, it intertwines us.
-A message that you want to convey about why it is so important to preserve our ancestral techniques ... Preserving our ancestral techniques means not letting collective knowledge and activities die; It is connecting with what we do and understanding why we do it. It is to speak again about the value of community and the network we managed to build.

By Gaby Ratner

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