One of the biggest concerns, for those of us who love and work with indigenous textiles from around the world, is “Who will carry on the traditions?” Young people once learned from their elders, stayed in their home villages, got a sixth-grade education at most, married young, and spun and wove for the rest of their lives for subsistence wages. Today they carry cell phones to connect to the outside world and aspire to go to high school or university. The allure of a profession in the city is powerful. To seek an easier, more forward-looking life should be their right. But then what about those exquisite traditional textiles, the ones that require weeks or months of skilled work for low pay?
Pondering this dilemma, Joe Coca and I kicked off a project when we were in Cusco in 2015 shooting photography for Secrets of Spinning, Weaving, and Knitting in the Peruvian Highlands. Working with Sarah Lyon, education coordinator for the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC), we gave digital cameras to the Young Weavers groups in each of the ten CTTC villages and asked them to take photographs of traditional life in their communities, which we would then craft into a book. We followed up with a workshop at last year’s Tinkuy artisans gathering. We met with 130 of these young weavers and gave them the chance to learn a bit about how books are made. The net result is Las Tradiciones Viven! Ñawpa Yachayninchiskunaqa Kawsanmi, a beautiful, inspiring little book that looks at village life through the eyes of the young people. The book was printed in Peru, but some are available in the U.S. through ClothRoads.
Las Tradiciones Viven! doesn’t answer that critical question of who will be practicing the traditional textile arts in future years, but it clearly reveals how bright, attentive, and insightful this young generation is and how much they love and appreciate the traditions of their elders and their communities.