"We Touches Their Hearts with our Designs" - 10 Years of Maya Rugs in Art Exhibitions

"We Touches Their Hearts with our Designs" - 10 Years of Maya Rugs in Art Exhibitions

This week’s blog post is written by Mary Anne Wise, one of Multicolores’ four co-founders. Mary Anne reflects on ten years of art exhibitions of Maya artists’ rugs: 

I was a full time artist once. For over twenty-five years I sold my works privately and through galleries. Preparing for exhibitions filled me with competing emotions: anxiety and satisfaction. Preparations included months of working solo in my studio right up until the last possible moment, then delivering my rugs to the exhibition venue. Taking the completed rugs off my lap, out of my messy studio, and positioning them as works of art on clean white gallery walls felt satisfying. When the exhibition opened, and the audience strolled into the gallery, I’d wait and I’d watch their reaction. That’s the ‘anxiety’ piece of exhibitions.

Three Maya women artists prepare rugs for art exhibition
2011: Carmen Maldonado, Carmen Cuá, and another artist from Chirijquiac work on rugs for exhibition

And so, in 2011, as Multicolores rug artists prepared their works for inclusion in an international exhibition for the first time, and artists Yolanda Calgua and Rosa Garcia attendedthe public opening all the way from Guatemala, I knew something about their emotions. As their teacher and friend I privately assured the women that their feelings were a normal part of the maturation process that artists everywhereexperience. In acknowledging their anxiety Iexpressed my confidence in their work. I knew the strength of their compositions meant they could rightfully lay claim to expanding appreciation of rug hooking as an art form. But it didn’t matter what I felt- what mattered was how they felt.

Before I continue my story, let’s pause to consider Yolanda and Rosa’s experience as their first international gallery exhibition opened.  Imagine you lived in a small village and hadnever travelled more than twenty or thirty miles from home. You’ve not visited a busy urban area or flown on an airplane. And now you’ve gathered your courage to seize upon an opportunity to travel to the US to attend an international exhibition where your rugs will be included alongside those of rug artists from the US and Canada.

Entering the gallery, Yolanda observed how their rugs were different:

“Right away I could see the difference– all the other rugs were made with wool. Our colors are different, too. Not better just different. And our designs are different, our designs come from our heritage as Maya women. Seeing that made me feel proud. This exhibition is an opportunity for indigenous women, an opportunity to see a place where our rugs are sold.”

“Watching the people look at our rugs, I could see them value our work. I even saw a few people cry because they were moved by the beauty we created. I had never seen that before. We touched their hearts somehow with our rug designs, I will never forget that.” 

Three rugs by Maya women artists exhibited on the white walls of an art gallery.
Ramona Tumax’s rug in the Ancestral Colors exhibition at Amy Kaslow Gallery

Since that first international exhibition in 2011, the Multicolores rug artists have participated in numerous shows across Guatemala and North America. Their current exhibition, Ancestral Colors, on display through June 15, 2021 at the Amy Kaslow Gallery in Washington, DC, features some of their strongest works to date. These pieces, all created during a global pandemic when their very lives were disrupted, belie artistic confidence and a profound sense of resilience. Pieces like Rosmery Pacheco’s “Magic Exists Between Nature and Art” use the iconic image of the backstrap loom to elevate the loom and Maya weaving tradition, as inseparable from nature, life, and indeed, creation. These powerful pieces are a synthesis of the artists’ textile heritage and are contemporary expressions of Maya culture.

Original rug artwork featuring three backstrap looms and Maya weaving motifs
“Magic Exists Between Nature and Art” by Rosmery Elizabeth Pacheco – on view at the Amy Kaslow Gallery in Washington, DC

Ten years after that first exhibition, Rosmery shares the continuing creative inspiration she finds in the connection between Maya identity and textiles— and the sense of confidence and satisfaction that she derives from her art:

“The weavings created by Maya women are one of Guatemala’s gifts to the world. Every part of the weaving process is deeply connected to Guatemala’s land and our spirit. The wooden pieces that form the backstrap loom are carved by hand from local trees. In some places, the threads are still spun by hand from cotton grown on our land. From simple tools, women create complex works of beauty.

I don’t know how to weave, but I love what these women create and I wanted to honor their art in this piece…. The three looms represent an ascending path to greater and greater achievements, symbolizing my own journey and my dreams for what is possible. Sometimes I am discouraged and feel lost—but within myself I find a certainty that I am bound for great things.”

– Mary Anne Wise

2021: Hilda Garcia with a work-in-progress rug commissioned for the exhibition Ancestral Colors.

Multicolores believes in showcasing and celebrating Maya women artists’ exceptional work in art exhibitions. We invite you to join us at one of our upcoming 2021 exhibitions:

Ancestral ColorsAmy Kaslow Gallery, 4300 Fordham Rd NW, Washington, DC

  • Open April 29 – June 15

Utz Q’awach: Designing Well-beingCentro de Formación de la Cooperación Española, Antigua Guatemala.

  • Opens July 15
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