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IFAM 2017: Defying categorization

SANTA FE, N.M. — For Kativa Pamar, “cultural acknowledgement” is vital for art. To keep her work true to her roots, the Madrid-based designer uses wool only from Spain’s Merino sheep to create her clothes.

She said using the Spanish wool elevates the importance of where materials originate and how they were traditionally used. Because of industrialization, she said, the Spanish sheep have been taken to other countries like Australia to produce wool in a cheaper, less humane, way, something she wants to speak out against.

Pamar takes traditional woolmaking practices, comes up with designs and then works with contemporary craftspeople who make finished products. The results are modern, but “culturally relevant” items, like a chic scarf or jacket, inspired by traditional shepherd garments.

“It’s about authenticity, going back to where things come from and why they came from there,” Pamar said of her thought process.

Another way she’s incorporated “traceability” into her clothes is by creating tags that, once scanned, give the name of each artist who contributed, emphasizing individuality in the folk art process.

Pamar, whose company is called the IOU Project, is one of about 30 selected artists participating in the inaugural “Innovation Inspiration” tent at this year’s International Folk Art Market on Museum Hill.

Whether its their message, techniques, materials or their collaborations with different craftsmen, all of the chosen artists are considered to be elevating or changing traditional elements of their countries’ folk arts via 21st-century ideas. At the same time, their work still must have a definitive folk base.

“It’s not throwing away the baby with the bathwater,” said market cofounder Judith Espinar of these artists’ work.

The International Folk Art Market is creating a new tent dedicated to ‘innovative’ artists for 2017 and 2018. (Courtesy of IFAM)

The Innovation section, which is already scheduled to return for the 2018 market, has been under consideration by the International Folk Art Alliance for the past several years. Pending its success, it could return beyond 2018.

This year, a donation from alliance board member Joanne Balzer and her husband Bob allowed the market to allocate funds for a separate Innovation section, as well as partially fund the chosen artists’ travel to Santa Fe.

Keith Recker, the Folk Art Alliance board member overseeing the new tent, said “loosening the definition” of folk art contributes to the growth of the alliance and the market itself.

“We have had an evolution over the past few years. The dialogue about folk art still starts with tradition, but there’s a lot more room to talk about personal expression, innovation [and] invention,” said Recker.

The types of innovation on display this weekend include using art to send a message about current events or topics like women’s rights or, in Pamar’s case, of sustainability and industrialization. Artists also are trying out new materials, like recycled items or different colors. There are also new, one-of-a-kind techniques – one Innovation artist created her own dye by steaming native flowers and letting the color set onto her fabric.

Asif Shaikh of India collaborates with other artists on their handmade and designed fabrics. He uses it for embroidery on one-of-a-kind garments. (Courtesy of Asif Shaikh)

Indian embroiderer Asif Shaikh has shown at the market twice before, in 2011 and 2016. He’s now collaborating with local fabric-makers, rather than putting his embroidery on machine-made fabric. Shaikh said using handmade fabrics from high-quality artisans gives the consumer the one-of-a-kind product people now crave.

He said he was inspired to try new techniques and create in different ways by observing other folk artists at IFAM, particularly artisans from Africa and Central Asia. “It inspired us to adopt some new designs from those kinds of different looks,” he said. “When you combine those ideas in your work, it’s innovative.”

Recker said it’s not IFAM artists themselves who label something as traditional or non-traditional. Taking away the barriers that once limited what could be shown at the market provides a chance to celebrate those who just consider themselves artists, no matter how they’re seen as by consumers or jurors.

“One of the glorious things about the world is there’s always all kind of creativity going on that will defy categorization,” he said.

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