Latin American craftsmanship: the story of Mexico and Colombia

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Mexico and Colombia are acclaimed for their crafts and folk art but is one better than the other?

Latin American craftsmanship: the story of Mexico and Colombia

In recent years, Latin American crafts and folk art have been catapulted in the spotlight, gaining the international recognition they deserve. With Colombia and Mexico as the leaders of the revival movement, the global market started focusing even on the artesania from Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia and soon after Latin American crafts have seen a substantial expansion.

Leer en español: La artesanía latinoamericana: la historia de México y Colombia

Despite a surge in competition, crafts from Colombia and Mexico are still in high demand and they don’t show signs of slowing down. Due to the globalization and the spike in international traveling, local craftsmen have started diversifying their offer, introducing more modern elements, in line with the requirements of the global traveler.  

What is artesania?

As consumers rediscover Latin America and its rich folklore, some wonder what precisely is artesania and which countries see the highest market growth.

An oversimplified explanation would say that artesania is an assortment of products intended for practical, decorative or style purposes. Most of these items are produced by hand, without the use of modern technologies or machinery and they integrate elements of the national identity. Both Mexican and Colombian producers have managed to find international success due to their impeccable craftsmanship and their ability to create alluring products which incorporate elements taken from the indigenous population, that sometimes get a more modern look so that they can respond to customer’s needs. 

With the expansion of the artesania market, new multi-stakeholder partnerships have been developed which brought socio-economic growth to outer regions. Recently the Inter- American Development Bank launched the Orange Campaign- an initiative through which the IDB highlights the contribution of the cultural and creative industry to the social and economic development. IDB estimated that in Mexico the creative economy contributed 2.9% of the GDP, creating 1.04 million jobs while in Colombia it contributes to 3% of the national GDP.

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Mexicos' craftsmanship

Mexico’s crafts and folk art is a celebration of color and the country’s rich indigenous identity. There isn’t a universal style as every State has its own distinctive colors and motifs, which mirror the region’s rich history, cultural elements, and natural features. On a general note, the characteristics are found on every expression of artesania, displaying minor differentiation. Pottery, jewelry, masks, and textiles have both Aztecs and Spanish colonial elements, showing not only the artistic brilliance of Mexicans as they managed to incorporate contrasting elements but also their desire to preserve a century-old craft. 

As most Artisans don’t have a school-based education in arts, having inherited their job and skills from family members, some critics argue that Mexican artesania is a form of naive art which was widely ignored until the 20th century. Starting with the last century, it gained international attention thanks to a new wave of acclaimed artists who gained international exposure by plagiarizing or incorporating elements from Mexican folk art. Nowadays, this artistic form increases Mexico's appeal and contributes to the national GDP by boosting exports and tourism.  



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Colombia's craftsmanship

Centuries before mochila bags designed by Wayúu weavers have invaded New York or were seen on stylish girls at Fashion Weeks around the world, Colombia was producing folk art pieces which uncovered the country’s rich culture.

According to International Expeditions “ceramic art was produced on Colombia’s Caribbean coast earlier than anywhere else in the Americas outside the lower Amazon basin, with relics dating back to 3100 BC”. Pottery, textiles, ritual ornaments, jewelry, decorative pieces, and all other traditional folk-art representations, celebrate Colombia’s rich cultural heritage while bridging the world of the educated urban elites with the rural communities. 

Local craftsmen borrowed artistic elements from colonial Spain and the African slaves (criollos), integrating them in their crafts. By mixing complementary elements, Colombian artists have managed to create art pieces which converse the national culture without being merely conventional souvenirs. Few countries have managed to achieve Colombia's success in transforming an industry of local relevance into a global export which receives international recognition.



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LatinAmerican Post |  Adina Achim

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