Two years ago, I left my country, Peru, to do a MFA in Fiber and Material Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The experience of living abroad for the first time was completely revealing for me and brought up multiple questions around my cultural identity. While at the Fiber Department, my art practice was deeply influenced by textile processes, and by weaving in particular, which led me to connect with my indigenous heritage, ironically, outside my country.
The art and cultural legacy that we Peruvians have inherited from our ancestors, especially related to weaving, has been completely erased from our artistic educational system. That is how I ended up studying painting at college, without knowing not only that I could become a weaver while studying art but also without having a single class that was related the art that was made by our people in pre-Columbian times. Traditional processes such as weaving, pottery, and natural dyeing have been largely excluded from our institutions, and this exclusion is rooted in a hierarchical differentiation between folk art or craft and modern/contemporary western art. It seems ironic that a country that has inherited as much ancestral, cultural, and artisanal wealth as Peru has never included a textile program or department in their educational institutions.
Encountering the voice of my ancestors while being trained as a weaver and studying my own culture at a foreign art school was a life-changing experience but also very painful. Throughout the past two years, I felt the urgency to return to my country as soon as I finished grad school and to work as an artist within education in order to change that reality. Fortunately, right after graduating this past May, my path led me back to my roots, to the land of my father, Cusco.
To be writing these lines as the new Education Department Supervisor of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC) is a privilege. I have no doubt that being in this one-of-a-kind position will give me the appropriate opportunities to work and fight for what I believe needs to change in relation to education in Peru and contemporary art. I am committed to make important contributions to CTTC’s overall mission of promoting the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles and empowering their makers. I look forward to developing projects that help Quechua weavers reinforce their indigenous identity by learning more about the greatness of their cultural heritage and seeing how important is to keep it alive and pass it on to the next generations. I am also interested in developing educational projects for the local public, as well as for people from around the world. The aim will be to reinforce the invaluable legacy that our ancestors, the artists of ancient Peru, have left not only to all of us Peruvians but to the rest of the world as global heritage.
Maria José Murillo is the Education Department Supervisor at the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC). After receiving an MFA in Fiber and Material Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she returned to her home country of Peru to work as an artist and educator, focusing on traditional processes such as weaving, pottery, and natural dyeing that are often excluded from the Peruvian educational system.