The textile collection of Los Altos de Chiapas is revitalized


Ana Kateri Becerra Pérez, curator and restorer announced the project “Exhibition and rescue of textile art in the Altos de Chiapas section” of the Na Bolom Museum collection, the first stage of the work was carried out in the period of March 2017 to July 2019, after that, from August of that same year to date, but the activities were modified as a result of the health contingency due to COVID-19.

Becerra Pérez mentioned that the initiative arose when the Na Bolom cultural association decided to invite Carlos Barrera Reyes, a visual artist, and marketer, to collaborate, who has been working with weaving communities for just over 12 years in his project “Collaborative actions with weaving groups in Chiapas and Oaxaca, through dyeing with natural dyes and the use of the backstrap loom ”, with the purpose of bringing them closer to the textile collection and formulating a proposal for its revitalization.

The curator pointed out that the textile collection was made up of various pieces of clothing from the Tsotsil and Tseltal communities of the Highlands of Chiapas, a work carried out by the anthropologist Walter “Chip” Morris.

Becerra Pérez added that over time the collection grew from donations, including those from Lori Benson, Carlos Barrera Reyes, and even María Santiago, a weaver from Zinacantán.

 It is important to mention that before the arrival of Carlos Barrera, the collection was used for catwalks and even as clothing for events, some of the huipiles that had been used in an event even had food stains, explained the curator.

The restorer commented that, even though there was a special piece of furniture to preserve the garments, these were treated like closet drawers, the most modern pieces were washed in washing machines and laid out in the sun, with the approval of Chip Morris.

She pointed out that when the current administration of the association came into operation, they made a first review of the state of conservation of the pieces and even a basic cleaning with the support of the artisan María López.

However, that was when the question arose: How to tie the professional care of a complete collection of pieces up to 100 years old, with the daily life of the pieces?

It was then that Barrera Reyes and the management of Na Bolom consolidated a multidisciplinary work team to start a project that includes a detailed classification and registration of each piece, the diagnosis of its state of conservation, the emerging stabilization of the assets, the adequacy of the space allocated for its optimal protection and the reestablishment of standards for its ideal and comprehensive conservation.

The restorer emphasized that the objects were revalued from a series of exhibitions whose axis was the communities of origin of the pieces and where they highlighted an outstanding and unique attribute in this type of museum proposal, and that is that, on each occasion, they made the effort to count on the presence and collaboration of the weavers of each place.

This allows the weavers to recognize pieces that their predecessors and even themselves had made, by touching them, photographing them, and identifying designs and techniques that are not in use or have disappeared.

Becerra Pérez mentioned that uniting the museological work with rules for assembly, the treatment of collections with the possibility of giving life to the pieces, and allowing contact and communication with the artisans was a challenge.

However, the above was successful, due to the revitalization and enhancement of the pieces, but also due to the recognition by the artisans themselves of their work as cultural heritage and museum pieces.

For the development of the project, the curator said that they adopted the position of treating each textile as a unique case, that is, with specific needs that seek to be solved in an integral way, in order to guarantee optimal conditions for its storage, as well as its values, therefore, the actions taken sought to guarantee the conservation of the collection.

Becerra Pérez mentioned that they carried out the registration and ruling on the state of conservation of the pieces, preventive treatment, emergent intervention, and conditioning of the space to safeguard the collection.

The first action they carried out as an essential measure to safeguard the collection was the generation of a database, in order to be able to count all the assets in the Na Bolom Museum collection, and the objects associated with them.

Likewise, they designed a specific code where they registered which collection it is, the year of cataloging, the code of the place of origin, and the consecutive number.
The curator pointed out that, secondly, they designed a specialized file, which contains the cataloging data of the piece, as well as its manufacturing technique, state of conservation, and maintenance recommendations.

She added that the catalog information was collected from a specialized bibliography, donor files, as well as the direct collaboration of weavers, who allowed them to obtain data about the technique, materials, use, and iconography present in textiles.

For the assembly of the exhibitions, they had the support of some weavers from the participating communities, for the correct display of the sets, as well as to inquire into the authors of the works.

In addition, thanks to the compilation of the information, they included a photographic record, so it was possible to know the state of conservation of the collection and the viability of the pieces to be exhibited, and they managed to identify the pieces that require urgent intervention.

To carry out the punctual restoration of said garments, it will be necessary to give continuity to the project by managing new funds to carry out the intervention proposals for them, as well as the execution of said restorations, the processes for preparing intervention proposals, as well as the restoration of assets must be carried out by professionals in the conservation and restoration of cultural assets following the principles and criteria dictated by the discipline, explained the restorer.

Becerra Pérez said that they carried out preventive conservation actions that included the superficial cleaning of the objects, as well as emerging treatments such as spraying with a broad spectrum fungicide, the elaboration of stabilizing seams, among others.

These treatments were necessary because the pieces during the exhibitions are manipulated by artisans interested in observing in detail the different manufacturing techniques that are present in the garments, such as the iconographic motifs that are often no longer present in current designs. Therefore, it is essential that the pieces are stable for handling and study.

For this, they assigned a specific space for the protection of the collection of objects, mostly textiles, the adaptation of conditions for their storage, together with the cataloging tasks.

The process of socialization of the collection took place through 10 exhibitions, 8 of them in the museum rooms, the rest were mounted in the House of Culture of Tenejapa and Zinacantán, where the weavers acted as caretakers of the exhibitions.

Also, in each inauguration, they had the presence of the groups of the corresponding community, as well as the presence of the presidents of the groups that participate in the Barrera Reyes project, they also invited other groups and designers giving projection to the collection and artisans.

Another important aspect highlighted by the restorer is that, in the inaugurations, they have constituted a moment to promote the meeting of the groups of weavers, with artists, promoters, designers, anthropologists, directors of institutions and museums for the consolidation of new creative projects, diffusion, research, and sale.

As of 2018, they consolidated a relationship with different spaces in order to disseminate the project through conference cycles and sales expo where the objective is to continue with work and collaboration networks in other entities of the country, through dissemination and the knowledge of its production through talks that allow consumers to become aware of the complexity and context of the manufacture of the pieces. which greatly facilitates the sale.

On the other hand, she said that as a result of the contingency for COVID-19, the collection rescue project faced an unknown scenario, so they modified the work plan.

She added that to continue with the socialization process of the textile collection, they decided to develop an exhibition: “Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas: Zinacantán” behind closed doors, with the presence of weavers from Zinacantán and presidents of other textile groups from.

It was decided that the exhibition would take place in two enclosures in the Na Bolom Museum and in the Zinacantán house of culture, in addition to this, it was decided to develop the exhibition in a virtual way in order to link it with a wider audience ", said the curator.

During the contingency, they delivered material for care with natural dyes, in order for each producer to develop what they learned in the workshops given by Barrera Reyes in the cultural association and through which they have generated collaborative and fruitful links for both parties.

On the other hand, as an alternative measure for the sale of textile production in the face of the health contingency and to strengthen the presence of weavers in textile consumption fairs, they can be carried out through virtual platforms, such as the Maestros del Arte Fair that is held organizes every year in Chapala, Jalisco.

The work carried out has allowed us to understand and in this way address the specific problems of the Na Bolom Museum's textile collection, because due to the nature of the goods they have different requirements and therefore must be treated with respect and adequate care so that, Preventive treatments provide not only stability of the objects, but also their dignity, said the curator.

The restorer stressed that the cataloging and ruling of the textile collection were not completed due to the magnitude of the work and the contingency due to COVID-19.

For this reason, they continued the work of preparing clinical records through the photographs of the pieces and they intend to continue with the cataloging and ruling of the remaining works in person as long as the sanitary measures allow it.

In addition to this, they will prepare a proposal for the realization of the archive by digital means.

Regarding the works in the textile collection, she said that they have allowed us to glimpse other areas with the opportunity to explore, such as the realization of a comprehensive conservation proposal.

Among these goals, they propose the intervention and restoration of the pieces that are in poor condition and that require structural stabilization.

This will achieve the recovery of aesthetic qualities and will allow the cultural asset to be reinserted in a museum discourse that promotes the appreciation of its plastic, iconographic, and cultural characteristics, for this they will manage new funds due to the expense for each piece to be restored.

Finally, she mentioned that despite the inconveniences due to the health contingency, the situation has allowed them to develop creative strategies for the socialization and revitalization of the textile collection, making it possible to project the work done through digital platforms.


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