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Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities

A quiet revolution is taking place around the world led by women artisan cooperatives. Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities provides an intimate view of several artisan cooperatives that are taking the initiative to collectively produce, manage and market their art. The result of these collaborations have enriched the lives of the women involved and made them powerful forces in their communities, enabling them to survive and thrive. Empowering Women was the inaugural exhibit in the newly created ‘Gallery Of Conscience’ at the Museum of International Folk Art.

Focusing on ten cooperatives that illustrate how the power of such grassroots collaborations transform women’s lives, Empowering Women brings together first person quotes, stellar photographs, and stunning examples of the cooperatives’ handmade traditional arts to tell stories of how women folk artists are working cooperatively to:

  • Preserve and reinvigorate their traditional arts
  • Generate steady livelihoods for their families
  • Give back to their communities
  • Become leaders in public life
  • Overcome domestic violence
  • Develop literacy programs for themselves and their children
  • Heal the traumas of war
  • Sustain their natural environments
  • Save for the Future

When anthropologist Dr. Suzanne Seriff was asked to guest curate an exhibition on women’s artisan cooperatives at the Museum of International Folk Art, she had a unique perspective as head of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market’s Selection Committee. Seriff was,

struck by the large numbers of women’s cooperatives applying to the Market, and their incredible stories how working collaboratively changed their lives. In this exhibition I wanted to bring some of these larger stories to the public, to give women a chance to speak for themselves- in their own words about their work and their lives and how women all over the world are improving their lives, families and communities with the power of cooperatives.”

One Moroccan woman teaches a village to read. An embroideress from Gujurant takes out a loan for the first time at the local bank. A Hutu woman from Rwanda works side by side with a Tutsi woman to make peace baskets that are working to heal their war-torn country. In Swaziland, the village women use profits from the sale of their hand woven sisal baskets to feed and educate the hundreds of children in their village orphaned by AIDS. In Bolivia, displaced Ayorean women learn to cultivate the bromeliad plants that were once native to their jungle habitat and from which they weave their native dress and hand dyed bags. Women artisans from all over the world are using the power of artisan cooperatives to reach new markets and transform their lives.

The featured cooperatives in Empowering Women are drawn from three continents and ten countries including India, Nepal, Swaziland, South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Bolivia, Lao PDR, Peru and Morocco. The 1100 square foot exhibition includes embroidered story cloths, hand dyed baskets, beaded neck collars, hand carded and dyed wool weavings, cultivated bromeliad bags, and folk paintings of native village life. Multiple videos, casework, text panels, and large scale photographs are also included along with extensive educational materials.

A new publication (2013), The Work of Art: Folk Artists in the 21st Century, by Carmella Padilla is now available and serves as an informative supplement to Empowering Women.

Our first tour venue for the exhibition, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, provided this feedback:

“It really touched a new audience for us, the women in our communities who are most challenged economically.  We were really able to connect with them and hope that can continue going into the future. It is an exhibition that lends itself very well to hands-on adult and children’s educational activities, demonstrations, and seminars. It is a beautiful exhibition with an incredibly important message! ”                    – Sandi Olsen, Curator for World Cultures

Take part in the global recognition of these incredible collaborative efforts by hosting Empowering Women in your community!

Click here to view the exhibition Gallery Guide