Just Back From

Just Back from: Celebrating Heritage Textiles at XTANT in Mallorca

Indagare’s Diana Li reports on her experience at XTANT, an annual heritage textile gathering in Mallorca that ensures the threads of our cultural knowledge—both literal and figurative—continue.

When I arrive in a new city, my first stop is the market. My preferred entry point into a culture is to experience what artisans are making by hand, their heritage craft. Like many Indagare members, my home is filled with treasures from travels, each a talisman. A hand-woven Guatemalan brocade faja wall hanging holds the strength and female empowerment of the Atitlán Women Weavers cooperative, who teaches backstrap weaving in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan. A vibrant stitched-felt shyrdak rug, handmade by a nomadic Kazakh family we met on our inaugural Indagare Insider Journey Mongolia, carries hope that a rapidly disappearing way of life is still alive and present. But what if we can no longer find quality craftsmanship? How many craft traditions will survive a decade from now? The medina in Marrakech is increasingly filled with the same products. Future generations are disenchanted by continuing their family’s craft. I am scared to live in a world absent of cultural diversity. Recent studies show we are losing one language every two weeks and that more than half of our languages will become extinct in the next century. Last December, UNESCO launched the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), a ten-year action plan on the world’s critical need to preserve, revitalize and celebrate oral history. Textile traditions can also be interpreted as endangered languages. Humans learned how to weave before we learned how to write. Mexican designer Carla Fernández believes “Textiles are our lingua franca. Among ourselves we speak in fingers, palms and cubits.” No matter where we come from, all humanity has woven fibers from the land, protecting our bodies from sand to snow. This May in Mallorca, I gathered with XTANT, whose mission is to protect our woven ancient wisdom.

In 2020, textile designers and activists Marcella Echavarría and Kavita Parmar founded XTANT, a life project to encode our heritage textile knowledge, passing on mysteries, myths and messages to remember what makes us human. “XTANT” describes that which is still surviving, the opposite of “extinct.” In its fourth year, over 60 artists, master craftspeople and designers gathered from all over the world. Far beyond a textile exhibition, XTANT is a powerful community and movement to gather a guild of like-minded, passionate heritage craft lovers to foster collective learning, highlight work of master artisans, educate consumers about the value of handmade, promote collection of textiles as art and inspire the future. In partnership with the government of Mallorca, XTANT hosted their market, hands-on workshops, educational program and panel discussions mainly across four iconic manor houses in the center of Palma: Can Vivot, Can Oms, Can Balaguer, Casa Museo Can Marqués. XTANT chose this Balearic island because Mallorcan culture is woven from many global threads and its tela de lengües (“cloth of tongues”) textile tradition still survives since the ninth century, introduced by the Silk Road (“ikat” derives from the Malay-Indonesian word “to tie or bind.)

Telares de llengües has been in slow decline since the sixties, when Mallorca once employed thousands of workers in hundreds of workshops. Today, there are only three remaining studios, two of which my mother and I visited during a special XTANT “Weaving a Memory” experience. On our full-day excursion toArtesanía Textil Bujosa in Santa Maria and Teixits Vicens in Pollença, our intimate group consisted of three mother-daughter duos from the U.S., Italy and Australia, our XTANT host Monika Kaczor, a Belgian designer, and Chilean textile artist Isabel Infante, whose sisal-woven works took my breath away on the opening showcase of XTANT. As my mind continued to race with questions after visiting the Bujosa family, Isabel intuitively leaned next to me, sketching the warp and weft on her sketchpad, patiently teaching the step-by-step resist dyeing technique to achieve the ikat design on our drive north to Pollença. Slowing down to study the process with Isabel’s impromptu, on-the-go lesson, I began to appreciate the level of craftsmanship required to achieve this time-honored technique of Teixits Vicens, creating the most traditional fabrics of the Mediterranean since 1856.

Over pan con tomate y jamón de serrano, our group dreamed of a future when mindful process and slow production triumph over fast fashion, when quality exceeds quantity. We reminisced on the much-needed pause that the pandemic graced us with. We imagined a community of neighbors trading from their gardens: orange blossom extract for foraged mushrooms. We discussed the butterfly effect, the idea that small things can impact a complex system. Each of us can do our part to expand the world’s awareness for protecting heritage craft.

As I did my first (of many) walks through the XTANT marketplace in Can Vivot, I was pleasantly surprised to discover all the works were not merchandised by artisan but interspersed and woven together. XTANT encourages chaos, spontaneity and fluidity that force us to let go of our conditioning. As one of my fellow attendees remarked, “it’s incredibly rare to find this level of curation.” The selection of designers cohesively told this year’s theme of fibra, “fiber,” the cloth’s most granular unit. As Marcella and Kavita shared, “We cannot effectively understand, change or tinker with a system to improve it if we don’t go back to its first principles. Our impatience as a species shows in many of the touted quick fixes to our current broken system. The lifecycle of a cloth begins from a fiber. Learning where fibers are best grown, how they should be harvested and processed is primordial to help create effective strategies in breaking down the complicated problems.” 

During the “Honoring Ancient Fibers” talk, South-Tyrolean artist Daniel Costa and textile expert Juhi Pandey discussed how sustainability is not new, but what ancient civilizations were built upon. We cannot talk about fabric without talking about fiber. We all come from and are connected by land. If we do not nurture craftspeople who protect rich traditions, our textile diversity will disappear. Today in Nepal, the ancient nettle fiber, once prized ceremonially for shamans and burials, is now a reminder of poverty, replaced by colorful polyester. For the future to bloom, Pandey believes the “seed is always education.”

At XTANT, or what I fondly describe as textile camp, I stacked my schedule with four half-day, immersive educational workshops led by expert artisans. In “Intuitive Embroidery” by Mexico City-based Gabriela Martínez of Ofelia y Antelmo, we learned to free our minds and hands. Sitting in our “knitting circle” next to XTANT artist Clara Saldarriaga, I let my needle guide the stitches from Gabriela’s toolkit, moving only as fast as my hands would allow, losing track of time until security told us Can Oms was closing. Intuitive embroidery is both a healing meditation and also a new skill I’m bringing back home to reinvent and upcycle my closet. Gabriela creates only about a dozen garments each year, dedicating much of her time to educating others on how to create their own heirlooms: no seasons, no sizes. 

In “Basketry Weaving” with Spanish master Carlos Fontales, expert in his country’s basket weaving traditions, we learned two techniques to weave blades of esparto grass, the fiber from which espadrilles are made. The pungent goat smell of esparto transported us straight from a courtyard in the center of Palma to the countryside. In a deep flow state, I couldn’t believe how quickly time passed again; “six hours is nothing in this work,” Carlos reminded us. As arms entangled over the natural dye pots during the “Indian Tie Dye Bandhani” workshop by Abduljabbar Mohammadhussa of Sidr Craft, I soaked in the synchronization of our group of passionate amateurs and skilled professionals. We moved in harmony helping each other wrap minuscule pinches of fabric with yarn. We gossiped, traded favorite ethical designers, learned about each other’s passion for textiles and developed a much deeper appreciation for the shibori technique. One mother of four, stylist Rosa Macher, flew in on the first and last flights from Ibiza, deeply committed to time well spent with this tight-knit community. 

When sharing their motivation for joining XTANT, artisans echoed Ashita Singhal, rising star and founder of upcycling textile studio Paiwand: “more than an exhibition, we’re building a true community here.” Ashita’s mentor is fellow XTANT artisan Chinar Farooqui, founder of Injiri, who donated fabric scraps to fuel Ashita’s early work. From seed to sapling, the next generation of textile artisans are uniting here to form a force of nature. Another one of these changemakers is Anubhav Singh; his work can pay artisans 50 percent of profits through both salary and commission on every sale. Spanish multidisciplinary artist Aitor Saraiba further builds on their shared mission: “Craft is what makes us human. We started to do the same thing all over the world independently. That’s why we are connected and why we have to keep going. I’m not just representing my work, but I’m representing all of humanity. We have a chance to change.”

Uniting the best of the best in craft, XTANT has ignited a global awakening. With this empowered community at the helm, our future can be handmade. Marcella and Kavita have masterfully created this vessel to transform consumers into collectors, custodians and connoisseurs. The power duo also announced the launch of their newest venture XTANT Gallery, launching Atelier Talasin, a textile studio of Amazigh women weavers in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains who are trained to remember lost traditions of their ancestors, such as the Berber knot. Forever committed to protecting our heritage craft, I’m already counting down until XTANT 2024: May 1-13 in Palma, Mallorca.

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