Much of the work of Thrums Books has been to document endangered traditions. Much of the focus has been on “last generations”—those elders whose children have gotten some education and fled to the cities. So it’s been a real pleasure these last few weeks to work with a young woman who lives and breathes her cultural and family traditions, but who uses contemporary means to record her roots and remain grounded.
Maruch Santíz Gómez is a Tsotsil Maya from Chamula, Chiapas, Mexico. Somewhere along the way she learned how to use a camera, and use it well. I met her last spring at the launch party in San Cristóbal for Chip Morris and Carol Karasik’s newest book, Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas. We had no common language, but she showed me a few prints she had taken in her community.
A Remarkable Tradition
The signature textile of Chamula is a remarkable, even shocking, shaggy woolen fabric that’s made into men’s tunics and women’s skirts and shawls. The process for spinning, weaving, and dyeing this cloth—thirteen steps in all—is not obvious, and is for the most part closely held in the community. I immediately thought of the readers of Spin-Off, an Interweave magazine that I founded and continue to consult on. Wouldn’t they be amazed? And who would be more appreciative than other spinners and weavers.
The short story: I just received digital images from Maruch, along with explanatory text in—get this—Tzotzil, Spanish, English, German, and French (thanks, I imagine, to Google Translate). You won’t get to see these photographs unless you get your hands on a copy of the Spring 2016 issue of Spin-Off, due out in March.
What I love about Maruch’s pictures is how direct and honest they are, and how they reflect a different point of view than I would have anticipated.
When we gringas go into other cultures, I think we tend to dramatize or romanticize what we see and experience. For Maruch, the skirt and the chuj (black wool jacket) of Chamula are part of life. It’s a product of shared history, skills, and values. That she remains in her culture, yet has developed new ways to document and communicate beyond it, is thrilling.