Folk Art Market Endures Amid Shifting US Immigration Policy

Organizers of the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe say shifting U.S. policies on security and immigration have not hampered participation by artists from 53 countries, from Cuba to Jordan.


In its 14th year, the annual bazaar is expanding its mission to highlight innovation and high-fashion within folk art traditions, from flower-petal dyed scarves from India to Amazonian basketry with mesmerizing patterns and symmetry.


A crowd of 20,000 is expected at the three-day sale that starts Friday. They will shop among wares from nearly 200 artists and artisans, many from remote areas in developing countries.

Here is a look at this year’s event:


Trading Places


Market organizers say that more than nine out of 10 invited artists have been able to secure temporary business visas and attend.


That access is on a par with previous years, despite a partial reinstatement of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of six mainly Muslim countries and refugees from coming into the U.S.


Work from one of those six banned countries will be on display: blown glass in a century-old style created by Syrian artists who decided last fall to sell goods at the market without attending because of their country’s civil war.


Female artists from a cooperative in South Sudan known for its beaded jewelry and clothing also chose to stay home amid unrest and famine there. The Roots Project, founded by South Sudanese human rights activist Anyieth D’Awol, is sending artwork with an outside representative to Santa Fe.


Four other countries are making their market debut with an Argentine leatherworker, a Bedouin-style rug weaver from Jordan, a jeweler from Tajikistan and beadwork by women from northern Tanzania.


Organizers of the market say it has evolved into a tool for visiting artists to better their lives and their communities, and for Americans to learn more about diverse artistic traditions.


Cuba Connections


The Trump administration’s partial reversal of the Obama-era detente with Havana has had little bearing on the market’s strong ties to Cuba.


Among five visiting Cuba artists is Leandro Gomez Quintero — who creates out of painted cardboard startlingly realistic miniatures of vintage American-made Jeeps and safari-style vehicles that roam the eastern end of the island nation. The 40-year-old history teacher hopes to earn enough on his first trip abroad to repair his hurricane-ravaged home and studio in the town of Baracoa.


The house band from the famed Havana restaurant La Bodeguita del Medio will play in an artist procession through downtown Santa Fe on Wednesday evening.


Peggy Gaustad, a board member of International Folk Art Alliance that produces the market, says the Cuban exchanges during the market began in 2010 under exceptions to the U.S. trade embargo and have endured partly because every visiting Cuban artist has returned home afterward.


She notes the U.S. Embassy in Havana is publicizing the visits by Cuban artists on its Facebook page.


Innovation and Tradition


A new exhibit area at the market this year is devoted to innovation, with a juried selection of 30 contemporary artists whose work brings a fresh perspective to time-honored folk art traditions.


Those booths will be selling high-end fashion accessories dyed with flower offerings recycled from Hindu temples in Mumbai, India; hand-beaded jewelry from a women’s cooperative in Tanzania; rugs in Guatemala made out of cast off T-shirts from the United States; and indigo- and mud-dyed textiles from Mali in Africa.


Returning artist Manisha Mishra of India says the new category freed her to transfer ornate paintings of mythological scenes to much larger canvases and three-dimensional busts of humans and animals.


Keith Recker led a selection committee for the “Innovation Inspiration” exhibit area and says it combines cultural preservation “with an expanded conversation about personal expression, about art that acknowledges 21st century life.”


Jeff Snell, CEO of the International Folk Art Alliance, became an advocate for the new approach after noticing artists in Uzbekistan were hiding their more adventuresome work from view for fear it would disqualify them from the International Folk Art Market.

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