As Published in Hand/Eye Magazine on November 14, 2009
Nilda Callanaupa and CTTC work to preserve Peruvian textile traditions
Nilda Callañaupa, founder and director of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco (CTTC), is a woman on a mission. As a young girl growing up in the 1960’s in her home village of Chinchero, most weaving was of inferior quality with synthetic fibers and DayGlo colors. Learning traditional weaving techniques from the elders and educating herself at university (the first person from her village to do so), she began to encourage, teach and support what she had learned. During the turbulent political crisis of the 1980’s and early 1990’s Nilda remained focused on her mission. In 1996 she founded CTTC in order to further promote and preserve traditional Andean weaving techniques.
Although Peru is in a period of relative economic and political stability, Nilda remembers the political crisis during the 1980’s when she was a university student. “You could feel it,” she says. “Friends you knew went missing; some were captured by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), or were sent to jail. I saw it and knew it was happening and there was a general feeling of fear in the town.” Violence like this obviously impacts a community, both emotionally and economically; tourism in Peru suffered greatly during this time. “Because of Sendero Luminoso, there were not many tourists here in Cusco, so many young people went to Lima looking for greater opportunity. That affected us a lot. The production of textiles for everyday use did not change much…weavers were still weaving, but the production of textiles for tourists declined greatly.”
Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán was captured in 1992 and the era of terrorism soon ended. In 1996 Nilda started CTTC: “It would not have been possible to start CTTC in the 1980’s. Many non-profits were leaving Peru and some foreign volunteers were killed, especially in Ayacucho. During this time there was no CTTC project but I was doing it anyway. I noticed that there was a lot of demand for high quality textiles…mainly by collectors. Many grandmothers lost their beautiful woven heirlooms, either by selling them to collectors or having them stolen. I wanted to expand this high-quality end of the market and also return to the traditional weaving techniques of the past.” With Shining Path subdued and tourists coming back to Cusco, Nilda was ready to exert a leadership role. “When we started the center in 1996, political turmoil was behind us, tourists were coming back and the market was ready for us. It all came together.”
Thanks in large part to CTTC, traditional Andean textiles are blossoming and youngsters aren’t moving to Lima anymore. Nilda acknowledges that income plays a part in this, but she also sees this as an expression of cultural identity. “Well, I’d say that part of the motivation for the younger generation was the financial opportunity, but for many people who had these traditional weaving skills, it was a way to show status in their community…something to be proud of…and it was good for their self-esteem.”
As Nilda looks into the future, she sees indigenous Andean textiles evolving. “At this stage, I am seeing more creation of new products that are more acceptable to world-wide markets. I’m talking about products that are more functional, like wall hangings, placemats, pillow covers, clothing and jackets.” CTTC will host the Encuentro de Tejedores de las Americas in October 2010, inviting weavers from all over the Americas to come to Cusco to share knowledge and experiences with one another. “It’s my dream. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for the weavers to share with one another and to let them say what they have to say.”
For more information about CTTC, visit http://www.textilescusco.org/cttc/eng/Nilda’s book Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands: Dreaming Patterns, Weaving Memories (ISBN 978-1-59668-055-5) can be purchased at Amazon.com.