Tucked into the village of Contla de Juan Cuamatzi, just twenty minutes beyond the central Mexican city of Tlaxcala (tlas-kah-lah), is an extraordinary textile workshop. Their roots go deep into Mexico’s cultural, social and political history. Here, they speak Nahuatl, language of the Aztecs, and the Netzahualcoyotl family trace their roots to the famed pre-Hispanic sage and poet-king from Lake Texcoco whose sphere of influence extended beyond the capital city. The workshop is committed to reviving, preserving, and protecting the cultural identity of indigenous clothing that can be traced to this era and earlier.
The ancient clay dye pots were on the verge of extinction as synthetic dyes became the norm, and as artisans abandoned their craft for steadier work in the industrialized cities. The dye pots were also the source of mineral-based paints used in nearby Cacaxtla archeological site murals. Netzahuacoyotl sees these ruins as inspiration for the textiles: ‘In this Nahua region, we see nature as wise, strong and delicate’. Their mission is to respect the natural world, conserve its bounty, and respect all that it provides.
Theirs is an integrated approach. Symbols used in Netzahualcoyotl textiles communicate the respect that Otomi and Nahua indigenous people have for mother nature and narrate the cycles of cultivation in the valleys beneath their sacred Malintzin volcano. Shells, butterflies, and diamonds figure prominently in the textiles, referencing the environment and early 19th century Tlaxcalan architecture of frets. Today’s iconic Tlaxcala sarapes made by Netzahualcoyotl blend the Saltillo style of thin, colourful lines and stripes that represent the gradation of sunlight, with more contemporary themes.
While Netzahualcoyotl hasn’t been directly impacted by cultural appropriation, Ignacio explains that the copying of indigenous designs for commercial production without attribution or compensation to villages and makers is having a big impact in Mexico, as many international designers are duplicating what is made here. He believes that the studio is the guardian of serape culture and history, and it is his responsibility to protect the cultural patrimony (objects owned by a native group or culture itself, part of identity). Educating people about what they are buying is key, and the government has a responsibility to recognize original design and protect the diversity of Mexican folk art and craft. Netzahualcoyotl adheres to traditional iconography and quality, blending past with present. The group of seven are but a handful of people remaining in Tlaxcala who are rooted in cultural preservation through the textiles they create.
This article was previously published on issue 109 Rise Up, available for purchase on our website. Text by Norma Schafer, with translation by Eric Chavez Santiago.