In October 2022, during the beginning of early planting, I arrived at Mater – Cusco, with my partner Alejandro Bidegaray and my young daughter Amanda Libertad, to carry out a collaborative art residency with the Warmis of K´acllaraccay community. My proposal dealt with memory, identity and territory, using textiles as a narrative space. Building on the idea of making from whatever unfolded in the encounter and the experience of weaving as part of the community´s daily life, we embarked as a family in the journey of delving into the countless intricacies interwoven with the act of weaving.
Textiles not only fulfill the function of clothing and shelter, but also that of maintaining a living cultural story. In the high Andean valleys, the textile heritage is felt in every corner; it is difficult to think of the Andes without thinking of weaving. The inhabitants of these latitudes usually wear the time and space in which they live, on their bodies as clothing. In this way, they manifest their identity, expressing through colors and symbols, the territory, life and communal experience, in this social skin that is the textile.
Sometimes there are absences, fractures and that also tells us the history of people. Traditional techniques fall into disuse and other foreign techniques slip through the cracks, becoming part of everyday life. In K’acllaraccay there are threads, many threads, as in no other community that I have known, but in appearance the backstrap loom weaving seemed lost and only by digging or weaving deep, it appeared as green stems among the threads, stories, gestures, memories and an intrinsic knowledge that accounts for a memory that pulsates to stay alive.
K’acllaraccay is a community suspended between mountains in the heights of Urubamba, with adobe houses, tile roofs and wooden balconies, which is reached by a trail after an uphill walk between freshly plowed fields, cabuyas and k’acllas, shepherds and sheep and the embrace of the Apus (mountains) Wañinmarcca, Veronica and Chicón surrounding the region. It is a 40 minute walk from Mil Centro and the imposing archaeological site of Moray. A first adobe brick house announces the proximity of the village, loose animals, women with their bundles or keperinas on their backs and men carrying large tools on their way to their farms, welcome you to this small and isolated community.
Here resides a group of women, spinners and dyers, sixteen unforgettable women with whom, together with my family, I had the wonderful opportunity and enormous privilege of living one of the most profound and transforming experiences of my journey as a weaver; Elba, Ceferina, Inés, Gregoria, Modesta, Benita, Nelly, Virginia, Yolanda, Claudia, Purificación, Francisca, Ceferina, Blanca, Ceferina, and also Eva, together they are the Warmis of Kacllaraccay.
Warmi, woman in Quechua, is not merely the name of the collective. Warmi is also used as an adjective, a woman’s willingness to do and learn to do. Its opposite is wailaka, used to define a woman who does not know or sometimes does not have the will to learn. But it is also a changing state, a woman can be warmi for something, and a little wailaka for something else. And that can vary over the course of an evening or a meeting, causing laughter and also tensions that can open up exchanges and new learnings.
Through these variations between warmis and wailakas, through which we rotated throughout our meetings, we learned about weaving, bonds, life stories and interculturality while weaving a collective piece and a meaningful friendship.
We began by narrating the landscape based on the colors that the warmis obtain from the plants of the region, according to what the land provides in each season. Together we came up with a color palette that would carry the threads they spin incessantly. The agricultural calendar would be our guide. This would make our weaving visible, representing the dry season, the wet season and the flowering of this territory, in three textiles woven with three loom techniques that are related, but culturally different. Checkered loom for the dry season, fixed comb adapted to waist for the rainy season and finally the backstrap loom for the spring blooming, representing the revitalization of this native and millenary technique.
We meet at Elba´s home, one of the group’s leaders, to share and exchange knowledge. In the center of the patio there is a pedal loom. It is not a native loom, but it is the one that brings us together. There are only a few of us at the beginning, but the warmis quickly catch on and as the days go by, they come to Elba’s yard, alternating their activities with the herd and the farm.
The first exchange was a knot, different ways of knotting. Tying and untying, little by little, we were also knotted together, around the loom. Milagros, Mila, warmicha, ñañai (sister). The ways of naming me began to soften. The weaving finds us, brings us closer, we build a bond through it. Khipu, mini, allwi, laughter, words, silences, glances, we weave and get closer, we weave and recognize each other. We do not speak the same language, but we inhabit the world sharing a same language: the language of threads and hands. We weave through it a parallel code, a way of being in the world.
All loom weaving is produced by the encounter between two parts: warp and weft. Like the threads, we had been meeting, getting closer, distancing ourselves and getting closer again throughout our shared time. Weaving also implies tensions, which are needed so that the threads do not get tangled and likewise, our meetings also had some of that. Sometimes the understanding comes out of time, in a different time, and also in a different space. We learned to tighten our threads, we drank a little bit of chicha, silence, thoughts and laughter and sometimes also tears when we understood that in that tension, we were also strengthening each other.
Hidden in each weft of our piece, a symbolic weaving runs in parallel, loaded with emotions and significance. It tells the story of our encounter, in which we walked together through a path of memory, that gave rise to the desires and needs of the present, with an eye towards the future. The textile piece that is showcased in Mater is a path full of seeds, from which new weavings continue to sprout, those that contribute to strengthen the collective efforts of the Warmis, and the revitalization and enhancement of a technique closely linked to the Andean culture.
I want to express my gratitude to the entire team of Mater and Mil Centro, for their warmth and openness, and especially to Verónica Tabja for bridging the way for this experience to be possible, both in the way it was and as it continues to be in time. I am deeply grateful to my children Pedro and Amanda, for accompanying me in my endeavors, each in their own unique way, and my partner, Alejandro Bidegaray, for the team we were in this immense experience, his support, commitment and his sensitive perspective on the encounter, as reflected in the photos that accompany these words. Finally, I want to extend my gratitude to all the Warmis, for opening the door to the intimacy of their group, their homes and their lives, and for forever transforming mine.
Photos: Alejandro Bidegaray