The Women of Tanivet

The Embroidery Ants of Tanivet

Destination Arts Creative Workshops went back to Oaxaca this February. We were lured by the phenomenal weather and incredible food that added so much to our last tour–Oaxaca is about the most perfect place in the world to lead art and photo workshops; around every corner is another gorgeous shot, perfect composition and blast of color. Paradise for artists is what it is…plain and simple.

That said, we do more than eat, drink and make merry. Wherever we go, we dive into the local scene and always meet the coolest people in any given location. Enter Marietta Bernstorff. With Marietta, you never know, exactly, who you’ll be sitting next to at dinner–what renowned composer or actor, what world famous designer or head of a University. Or you might meet people like Dan and I, fellow travelers who truly love other people, good living, and supporting any good cause that takes care of the Earth or others. This year we met the Women of Tanivet.

I wrote this to honor their good work, and to promote all the good work that Marietta Bernstorff has done on behalf of other artists:


Craft says, buy me, use me,  Art says, know me, hear me….

In learning a handicraft, the women of San Fransisco Tanivet have become artists. With each careful stitch, each playful design, and every color choice, they tell their story and their creative selves are emboldened, their culture remembered, their own lives enriched by the function of art– the illumination of life.

In their village, on the outskirts of Oaxaca, Mexico, they sit around a table, in community, but working for themselves. Firing their own imaginations, training their nimble fingers and laying down their stories in brightly colored cotton thread for the world to read. They are the women of Tanivet, a group of women assembled and inspired by artist activist, Marietta Bernstorff, founder of the MAMAZ Collective, a group of women artists, invited to enlist the power of the human spirit to keep alive a culture that could easily be erased by the corrosive power inherent in the evolution of the industrial/agricultural process.

They first told the story of Maize. More than food for their family and livestock, this heirloom grain has been a cornerstone at the center of the spirituality and daily life of their forbears for millennia. The threat of its extinction, by the introduction and spread of genetically modified strains of corn, hammers at the very heart of this society. In an embroidered folding book, the women have illustrated stitch by stitch, panel by panel, this story. In the right hands this work, a David to the Goliath’s like Monsanto, becomes a mighty, if peaceful, weapon.

Another cruel casualty centering around agriculture and subsistence that weakens the fabric of their families is the fact of emigration. No longer able to eke out a living to provide for their families, the men of their village have left the country to find work. They work in the US, in the fields of other farmers, in kitchens in US diners feeding foreign families to send money home to feed their own children.

The Women of Tanivet have dedicated their new talent to the telling of this story, and in doing so have made a record of their strife, and turned their personal loss into something beautiful, palpable, and communicative. This visual storytelling may very well touch humanity in a way that can effect a change in the course of this very human tragedy.

Through this creative endeavor — it’s positive effects, multi-hued, multi-layered, and infused with the love and camaraderie that recalls the days of the quilting bees at my grandmother’s farmhouse; and the work that goes on in my own printmaking studio every Friday and Saturday —  the Women of Tanivet have called on the power of the collective spirit of women working together, sometimes quietly, often times not, to create something personal, useful, and beautiful. In illustrating these stories on scraps of recycled fabric they have transformed their own lives — once housewives, farmers, and mothers… now also artists — and have also altered and enlightened those fortunate enough to bear witness to it, forever.

May their industry inspire the change that is needed and their families be blessed by this work.

Kate McGloughlin
Destination Arts
March 2014