Exploring light, colour and street art with Argentinian-Spanish artist Felipe Pantone
by Manu SharmaApr 21, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Anushka SharmaPublished on : Jan 30, 2023
The world is a sinfonietta of diverse cultures and voices—a tapestry bound together, ironically, by differences. Over the course of time and centuries of categorisation, some voices found their way into the spotlight, resounding across the globe; while some others, equally, if not more, powerful voices remained hushed in a wistful limbo—waiting for an audience. If and when one of these hidden treasures are encountered—often in remote rural areas, thriving away from urban complexities—they inspire awe and curiosity. Las Manuelas Art Series is one such expedition of a discovery of practices unfolding in full view but aloof from the eye of the internet, and subsequently (sadly) from the eye of the contemporary world. The excursion began back in 2012 when Isabel Berz, Director of Istituto Europeo di Design's (IED) Research & Education Center at the time, was invited by a Peruvian NGO to visit Puno’s female artisans and alpaca herders and create a collection with them.
Perched on the Andes, one of the world’s highest mountain ranges, among snow-clad peaks and frosty winds, Las Manuelas sings of the story of a group of women alpaca herders and artisans. Propelled ahead by a desire to empower these women from Puno, Peru, Las Manuelas connected them with artists and designers, introducing their knitting—brimming with soul and made from 100 per cent natural alpaca wool—to the world. The initiative completed a decade in 2022, a landmark accompanied by the revelation of its most ambitious collection to date: Art Series. Sharing the vision to transcend traditional boundaries both in fashion and design, digital gallery Adorno, IED and Las Manuelas joined forces to unveil a powerful ensemble of textile designs to the global community. Las Manuelas is “[…] a community, method, and space to nurture inclusive design by exploring exciting connections and partnerships with the idea to create beautiful and respectful artefacts done by hand with [the] natural resources of our planet,” says Isabel Berz, the project’s co-founder and creative director.
Witnessing the life and work of Peruvian women for the first time in 2012, Berz instantly knew she wanted to collaborate with them. Together with selected IED students, she decided to fully immerse herself in learning about these skilful alpaca herders. Berz soon realised that to understand what these women really need is paramount and went on to live with them to discern their process. The remote region sans internet accessibility and even electricity in some areas, is (not so) surprisingly animated with a more grounded way of life and of course, their native craft. Soon after, the blossoming initiative turned into a digital platform and the impactful story of Las Manuelas debuted on the global stage. The Art Series, their most recent chapter, showcases their multidisciplinary spirit as they seamlessly amalgamate fashion design, art, design, and technology. “We love the idea to act as a reference, a positive case study, that it is possible to do things another way and be still valuable in the market,” shares Berz.
Curated by David Lapof, IED project manager, this series of functional textile art is conceived by 11 internationally acclaimed contemporary artists namely—Bicicleta Sem Freio, Broken Fingaz, HuskMitNavn, L’ATLAS, Lakwena, RekaOne, REVOK, SatOne, SEIKON, SOLOMOSTRY, and Zebu. What ties these artists together is their passion for street art, a genre often scorned as an inferior art form, akin to the plight of craft in traditional art history. What emanates from the street artists' minds is realised by the adept hands of Peruvian artisans—a web of cross-pollination woven by voices both in and away from the public eye, a tale of inclusive design. Rooted in the tenets of the collective, the collection marks a significant step in terms of distribution, as they embark on a journey to disseminate their artful textiles internationally through concept stores and major fashion events, such as their exhibition and talk during Copenhagen Fashion Week 2023.
“Usually when you make a written agreement in collaboration, you talk about money and conditions. But here, everything started with values,” recalls Berz. Reminiscing about one of their initial discourses over ten years ago, Berz traces how empowerment and economic independence of these women artisans transpired into the core values of Las Manuelas. As the structure of the collective evolved, the two pillars augmented into the current manifesto of 10 values encompassing promotion of biodiversity, natural materials, traceability, connection (between the artisans and the artists), inclusivity, equality, singularity and permanence, and circular design. During the course of creativity, the concept of Co-Design Platform also came to life—a system of co-creation that allows the artisans to contribute to each design, saturating each piece with their soul. This digital tool bridges artists worldwide with Peruvian craftspeople, eradicating the traditional hierarchies found in the domain of fashion design.
"For us, the whole project is about trying to educate and to give a message; to try to give visibility to things which exist in the fashion industrial system that perhaps can be done in another way,” shares Berz. The Art Series is a continuation of this crusade, shedding light on and challenging the contempt faced by art deemed mediocre. The rural meets the urban, the artisan rendezvous with the artist, nature immerses into technology to culminate into multi-functional art that embodies innovation and sustainability. Vivid graphics are interwoven with typographical and figurative elements from fantastical landscapes to horses with flaming manes to abstract shapes in muted tones. These 11 textiles—that can each take up to 250 hours to make by hand—emulate the stylistic diversity in street and graffiti art alongside the possibilities to rethink fashion by connecting modern-day creativity and contemporary art with timeless artistry.
The Art Series testifies Las Manuelas efforts towards paving a new path for a more inclusive and sustainable future, in an industry where it has been long overdue. Practising a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach, the borderless community continues to grow and evolve—the story of Las Manuelas and the voices of the artisans echoing from the highlands of the Andes to high-fashion stores across the globe.
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