When the Europeans arrived to Mexico in the 16th century, textiles was a highly developed and mastered craft amongst the indigenous people. Spinning and weaving were integral parts of daily life for girls and women and in the indigenous cosmovision textiles were protected by goddesses; the Aztecs revered Xochiquetzal, who was said to be the first to spin and weave thread on a backstrap loom and the Mayas believed that the Moon Goddess Ixchel was the patron of spinning and her daughter, Ichebelyax was the patroness of embroidery.
The Pre-Hispanic textile traditions were to became infused with European influences in regards to dress, production and embellishment from the 16th century onwards. Traditional indigenous dress was modified by the Europeans to conform with their notions of propriety, most notably with the blusa for women, which would become the canvas for a symphony of embroidered embellishment. The importation of sheep and silk-worms led to the incorporation of wool and silk production to the indigenous repertoire of fabrics and yarns.
Spanish styles and needlework techniques were introduced in the convent schools established by the missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries and these were already infused with Egyptian, Persian, Slavic and Oriental influences. The Spanish Trade Routes of the 18th and 19th centuries brought further influence as magnificent silk embroidery from China was transported from the Philippines through Mexico on the way to Europe, inspiring the local craftspeople to emanate the large colourful floral motifs and fine satin-stitch technique. The Slave Trade introduced bold African design elements to the motifs, colours and patterns amongst certain coastal communities. With this fascinating melting-pot of Pre-Hispanic heritage, European, Asian, African and Middle-Eastern influences, it is no wonder that contemporary Mexican embroidered textiles often reveal a complex narrative.
Bordados: An Exhibition of Embroidered Textiles from Mexico showcases a collection of embroidered textiles that were purchased as part of a research trip undertaken in 2015, which aimed to investigate the cultural significance, craft and aesthetic of Mexican embroidery in the 21st century. The project involved travel to Veracruz, Hidalgo, Mexico City, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Chiapas and Puebla, to interview Totonaco, Zapoteco, Purepecha, Otomi, Mazahua, Tzotzil and Nahua indigenous craftspeople. Many of the craftspeople had been taught by their mothers and grandmothers from the ages of five or six and the most intricate Pre-Hispanic and European designs were learned by heart and followed intuitively without patterns. Anthropologists and textile scholars consistently emphasised the importance of textiles to the identity of indigenous groups in Mexico as their traditional costumes may distinguish the origins, culture, ethnicity, age, social and marital status of a person. Eighteen exquisite embroidered textiles were purchased during the research trip and they showcase a selection of the captivatingly diverse colour, craft and styles of embroidered textiles produced in Mexico today.
Each textile is accompanied by an enthralling narrative that reveals the traditions, cultural significance, and personal experiences of the craftspeople who created them. When exhibited side-by-side the textiles are enriched by the narratives and rather than invoking appreciation from a solely material aspect they serve as illustrations for the fascinating stories of heritage, colonisation, trade and cultural identity. The exhibition has been shown at the Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, the College of Fine Art and Design at the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and the Mexican Embassy, Ireland (2016).