'A master indigenous Quechuan artist who spins, weaves and knits in traditional styles, Nilda Callañaupa is also a scholar and the director and president of one of the most influential textile organisations in Peru. Born into the millennia-old Inca traditions of weaving in the Sacred Valley, Callañaupa discovered her gift for weaving as a young girl. Having honed her craft and travelled the world to speak at universities and museums about the disappearing art of Inca weaving, establishing the Centre for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (El Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco or CTTC) seemed like a natural progression.
The centre was designed in order to inspire poor Quechuan women to improve their economic circumstances and to save cultural traditions from being lost to future generations: “Traditional weaving practices on ancient-style backstrap looms were left in the hands of the elders... Young people were not learning to weave.” Techniques and patterns from 2,000 years ago were disappearing as weavers turned to more easily accessible and colourfast day-glow coloured chemical dyes. So in the early 1990s, using connections in Chinchero that dated back to her childhood, Callañaupa brought women together into a cooperative to share skills and techniques.
Callañaupa knows well the plight of the local Quechuan Native Americans, descendants of the Inca. She herself grew up in a small village and, like all the other local children, began tending a big flock of sheep when she was 6 years old. Her mother, Guadalupe Alvarez, taught her to spin yarn and weave not only sheep’s wool but also that of llamas and alpacas. “Weaving was in my blood,” she said. By the time she was in her early teens, she was hooked. She financed her college education in Cusco by selling textiles, and her skills soon brought her world-wide recognition.
Nilda Callañaupa was featured in Selvedge Magazine Issue 68, Carnival.
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