Hailing from Colombia, artisan and cooperative member Rosmery Uribe has been dedicated to the creation of traditional South American molas—ornately designed, colorful textiles with meanings both sacred and universal—for decades. The origins of this truly unique artform date back to pre-Spanish times, beginning with Colombia’s Gunadule ethnic group, who used to paint their bodies in elaborate, colorful designs. When they came in contact with the missionaries after Spanish colonization they retained this part of their culture, transferring painted drawings to cotton cloths. Uribe makes molas in the same way generations of artisans did before her: handmade, from start to finish, using a reverse appliqué technique.
The process of making a mola begins with choosing several layers of cloth and sewing them together; against this backdrop, designs are cut out, revealing cloth of contrasting colors below. Rosmery Uribe is celebrated for her rainbow-hued molas, which might feature parrots (or other animals) in resplendent arrangements of neon pinks, yellows, and indigos. On the other hand, Uribe sometimes takes a more monochromatic approach, crafting molas in allover interlocking geometric designs of creamy beige and black.
Centuries have gone by since this form turned from skin painting to fabric, but molas still represent a sacred cosmogony, a graphic vision of the world full of color and meaning that depicts many forms of life that surround this indigenous community. For women, molas bear a special significance, because the making of these textiles has traditionally been their purview. Mothers start teaching their daughters the importance of this craft by the age of nine; but as each woman develops artistically, she uses her unique imagination to capture different geometrical figures, animals and flowers, giving the product her own personal touch in color, form and detail.
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Photos courtesy Artesanías de Colombia