Talena Sanders
Children in the village of Nuevo San Ildefonso, near the Mexican border of Chiapas, 2011Family garden harvest, Nuevo San Ildefonso, 2011Nuevo San Ildefonso, 2011Nuevo San Ildefonso village view, 2011Nuevo San Ildefonso, 2011Nuevo San Ildefonso, 2011, wearing traditional headbandNuevo San Ildefonso, next to the only building in the village, the school, 2011Nuevo San Ildefonso, 2011 - women in this village are relatively isolated from cities and towns, as well as tourist influence, and have innovated their own designs over the years in the village.Nuevo San Ildefonso, 2011Northwestern highlands of Guatemala, region of Nuevo San Ildefonso, 2010 (Kodachrome)Backstrap weaving in Nuevo San Ildefonso, 2011The women and children of the village look on as a community member demonstrates her weaving, Nuevo San Ildefonso, 2011Martina Matzar weaving, Santa Catarina Palopo, 2010A woman in Santiago Zamora prepares Christmas decorations to be sold to tourists through their village's weaving collective, 2010Woman in Santiago Zamora working on new products to sell in their weaving collective store.Young women in Chichicastenango show their work-in-progress, 2011Detail of weaving in progress, Chichicastenango, 2010Woven cloth holds together items for transporting across Lago Atitlan, 2010View of the cemetery in Chichicastenango, 2010Young women in Chichicastenango modeling their fashionable traditional dress - the short corte skirts possibly stem from tourism influence.  Chichi is one of the largest textiles markets, shoppers are predominantly tourists traveling in and out on the samYoung women in Chichicastenango, 2010 (Kodachrome)Portrait of a woman working in her Chichicastenango market stall, selling handmade traditional textiles, 2010A lakeside market scene, 2010 (Kodachrome)A market stall in Santiago Atitlan, home of prized bird embroidery in the traditional dress.The weaving co-op/collective store in Santiago Zamora, tourism and customers are brought in by an NGO for purchasing the women's goods.  Women I interviewed say they now make more money than their husbands by selling their handmade textiles.A secondhand clothing market stall in Antigua, selling U.S. surplus secondhand goods.A woman selling mass produced huipils (blouses) in the Colotenango market, 2010Huipil (blouse) display in Santiago Atitlan market.  On the left are pricey embroidered huipils, on the right, more economical blouses.A market stall selling mass produced and trendy huipil for younger generation Maya womenInexpensive satin-like fabric huipil blouses on offer in a market. 2010A woman in a village outside Colotenango weaving, 2010village outside Colotenango, 2010Village outside Colotenango, 2010Handmade bags men and women carry, these are in a village outside Colotenango, 2010Mother Mary and other saints have had woven indigenous bags made for them, Colotenango, 2010Village outside Colotenango, 2010Village outside Colotenango, 2010Colotenango, 2010A bus with cargo, Antigua, 2010 (Kodachrome)Portrait of Martina Matzar, Santa Catarina Palopo, 2010 (Kodachrome)Sarah Matzar and Martina Matzar, 2010.  Sarah Matzar, originally from the U.S. is an textiles historian and artist who has lived in Guatemala since the 1970s.Children at Momonlac school, wearing a combination of traditional dress and contemporary western dress, 2011Children in the village of Palmira, 2011Bus in Antigua, 2010 (Kodachrome)Child in Santa Elena village, with teddy bear carried in a traditional woven sling, 2011Children in Santiago Zamora, 2010Protestors in Antigua interacting with the media, 2010.  Protest against minibus tour expansionProtestors in Antigua, 2010Women from San Pedro Necta, 2010, younger woman not wearing traditional headbandDetail of dress from San Pedro Necta, 2010Portrait of woman from San Pedro Necta, 2010Women and children from the village of Santa Elena, 2011Antigua, Guatemala, 2010
Highland Fashion 2010 - 2012
An exploration of traditional dress of indigenous Maya people in Guatemala, and the influences of socioeconomics and fashion trends on traditional dress.

The Maya of Guatemala continue to wear traditional dress, known as the traje tipico. Most often, women carry on the tradition, but in some villages and towns men also continue to wear traje. Each community has their own distinctive colors, style of embroidery, and style of backstrap woven fabrics. Maya people from other communities can often recognize where another Maya person is from by their dress.

The traje is almost entirely crafted by women, but in some communities, men also contribute to designs and clothing. In an extremely labor intensive process, the fabrics for the clothing are created with a backstrap loom. In the most valued and valuable traditional dress, embroidery is created by hand. Embroidery is applied to the women's blouse, called the huipil most extensively, and more minimally to the corte fabric - the fabric used to create a wrapped skirt. This skirt is held together by a lavishly decorated woven belt. In communities such as Santiago Atitlán and Todos Santos Cuchumatan where men dress in the traje, calzoncillos (pants) are often emrboidered, as well as camisas (shirts), and occasionally a wool jacket will have embroidery as well.

Naively, I embarked on this project thinking of the traditional dress as a somewhat static mode of fashion. I quickly learned how the influences of fashion trends and economics continue to inform traditional dress.

In cities and towns, the traje is a symbol of prosperity as well as tradition. To create this labor intensive clothing, you must have the luxury of time and access to materials. The more time you have, the more elaborate your dress can be, and the more time you have, the less you have to work to survive.

The traje can function as a sort of life insurance for married women. Should their husbands die, they can sell off their wardrobe for extra money if needed.

As tourists value certain designs and colors, they can influence the fashion of a village for decades. In one village, Santa Catarina Palopo, the village's traditional dress color palette was reds, white, and yellows. In the 70s, a tourist paid a Mayan women $100 for a set of traje to be made for her in blues and purples, and the village fashion changed entirely because of this inflation of value for the colors blue and purple.

In some more remote villages, wearing the traje isn't always a sign of wealth, as these villages don't have ready access to the secondhand markets of the towns and cities. In more far removed villages, the lack of outside influences shapes fashion trends - women innovate their designs over time, riffing on each others' patterns and embroidery, developing their own unique visual language for their village.

As with any fashion, younger generations develop their own ways of wearing the traje. Older women often wear traditional headdresses, scarves, and headbands, while most young women see this as an old women's fashion, and don't adopt the accessory.

Surplus secondhand clothing shipped in from the US is by far cheaper to purchase, and so many Mayan people shop the markets for this inexpensive dress. Often, women wear their corte (skirts) with contemporary western-style blouses and t-shirts. There are also more economical mass produced huipils (blouses), often with machine-made embroidery widely available in markets. Many younger Maya women wear western style contemporary clothing day to day, and have full sets of traje worn for special occasions, like a wedding, party, or high school graduation.

I began this project by reaching out to non-profit organizations around Guatemala, who introduced me to women and families around the country. Thank you to Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala, CasaSito, Mayan Families for introducing me to the participants in this project.

I worked with Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala as a videographer and in administration from 2011 - 2012, and was able to return to Guatemala many times and develop relationships with women in Nuevo San Ildefonso and continue photographing their unique style of dress.

Adopt-A-Village is an excellent, ethical organization, but I still question my own ethics in utilizing my access to people in the communities that I worked with. The communities had long standing relationships with the organization, and so they were accustomed to being photographed for various fundraising opportunities. I worked to explain my project, and they had great pride in showing me their handmade work, but I feel its necessary to disclose that I may have had especially privileged access to create these images.

If you feel moved by these photos, I encourage you to consider a donation to assist self-sustainability and education projects underway in these wonderful communities through Adopt-A-Village in Guatemala: http://adoptavillage.com/

All images 35mm, some images shot on expired Kodachrome before the last run of Kodachrome developing in 2010.

Exhibition History
systemY systemUS, Galeria Imaginarium, Lodzki Dom Kultury, Lodz, Poland, 2011