Black | In modern Greece a widow who stays dressed in black day in and day out, the ‘traditional’ dress, can be seen as self-denying, repressed by a patriarchal society. The late Steve Jobs an epitome of modernity as represented by Apple Mac equally chose black certainly in his public clothes. The earlier pictures show him in a black suit, which changes over time into an ascetic- looking black polo-neck, simplicity itself. He is in a line from the early 15th century Lucca merchant Giovanni Arnolfini in the painting by Jan van Eyck in which he wears a black beaver hat and a black dress, stockings and shoes, the sign of dignity and loyalty in merchants. These contextual shifts are not new and can co-exist. Alongside Mr Jobs in the contemporary world, the Gothic sub-culture – black clothes and cosmetics – and pale faces continues as an international phenomenon. It continues a much earlier association with the devil, later refracted through late 18th and 19th century romanticism, and which has made another specific comeback in vampire-genre film and TV. For the ancient Egyptians it had been a positive colour, speaking of the fertility of the earth, all that black silt from the Nile, and ensuring the passage of the dead into the next world. In the Greek world it changes into a negative as the notion of the afterlife also changes. Hades is dull, black without the sun, light and sky of the living sensuous world. In the Inca Empire capital of Cuzco foreigners were required to wear black to mark them out. From its iconography of the satyr, the Christian notion of the devil is also taken, and from around 1000 AD the devil and the very notion of evil adds black to that picture. Two hundred years later however it became the colour of choice for the clothes of “urban patricians and officeholders or those in authority”, symbolizing both dignity and integrity. In the middle of the 14th century progress in the technology of dyeing and a shift in public attitudes to dyers themselves who took on the black-skinned Saint Maurice as their patron, made more properly black tones possible. This, and the sumptuary laws which forbade certain coloured clothing for any but the nobility may have been instrumental in how between 1360 and 1380 merchants, and men of finance also took up black. It may also have been seen by them as adding a necessary austere to how they looked, as if they were already preparing the way for a Protestant aesthetic, and the trustworthy appearance of self-denial.
Over the centuries it has competed with grey as the colour to express such sobriety. People of refinement Goethe says disliked bright colours, which were for “uncivilized nations and children”, instead wearing black for men, and white for women. The judgmental adjective ‘garish’ perpetuated the notion that brightly coloured clothing was essentially vulgar. At times this inclination could be fetishistic, as with the great Protestant capitalist Henry Ford refusing any colour but black for the Model-T Ford car; or representative of gruesome rituals as when English judges put little black caps on to their wigs to pronounce the death sentence. In the age of the creative professional class and its intelligentsia, for whom Steve Job was an iconic figure, it has been given a new lease of life, transmuted with a notion of ‘cool’ into the colour of choice for this new priesthood. These are serious people artistic perhaps but clear and uncluttered. Black, far from dirtying, which is how Wittgenstein sees it as colour, is sharp and clear-cut.
0509 | At the Second Meeting of American Organisations and Movements in Tihuanacu, Bolivia, in 1983, September 5th was officially designated International Indigenous Women’s Day, in honour of Aymarán Military Leader Bartolina Sisa Vargas.
During the early 1780s, in the highlands of Peru and Alto Peru (present-day Bolivia) armed Quechua and Aymará groups fought their Spanish oppressors. Bartolina Sisa, together with her husband Túpac Catari, led the indigenous uprising with an army of more than 40,000, which laid siege to the city of La Paz in 1781. Sisa was the commander of the siege, which was maintained for 184 days, and was executed when the insurgency was put down after 11 years. From the start, Bartolina made a dynamic contribution to the movement, ensuring the concerns of women were addressed in revolutionary councils. The popular uprisings had many similarities to the goals of present-day social movements, a restoration of Indigenous rights and a more equitable redistribution of the Andean region’s abundant natural resources.
Bartolina Sisa emerges from the jail naked and bleeding with rope around her neck, tied to the tail of a horse. Her sister-in-law Gregoria Apaza, another notable rebel commander, is brought out on a donkey. Each of them carries a cross of sticks, like a scepter, in the right hand, and has a crown of thorns fastened on her head. Before them, prisoners sweep the ground clear with branches. Bartolina and Gregoria make several turns around the main plaza of La Paz, Bolivia suffering in silence the stones and laughter of those who mock them as Indian queens, until the hour the gallows strikes. Their heads and hands, the sentence reads, will be paraded through the towns of the region.
Bartolina’s fate has never been forgotten by the Aymarán women. September 5th is a day not only to remember her but it honours the indispensable role played by generations of indigenous women most of whose names have been lost to history in the 500-year struggle for decolonisation, land reform and social justice. Today the Bartolina Sisa National Federation of Bolivian Peasant Women (FNMCB-BS or Bartolinas) has grown into a powerful organization. In 2010 Bartolina leader Nilda Copa was appointed as Minister of Justice, and the Plurinational Legislative Assembly has a total of 30% female representation. In addition 43% of all the Bolivian council members are women. The present political administration has also implemented various policies designed to improve women’s lives: between 2006 and 2008 the government distributed 10,300 property titles to rural women.
My name is Juan Quispe and I live on the island of Taquile in Lake Titicaca and I’d like to tell you about how we live here, what we make and what we wear and especially the faja, woven by women and the chullo, knitted by men. But first let me tell you about the culluchua cloth, which means the ´plate of generosity´. One has to maintain the spirit of it, so that, if I don’t have, I have. And if you have, nature has always to provide, I mean you are never going to lack food, or spirit, and you are never going to lack joy. The cullucha is at the edge, so to speak, protecting us from not having. Now with the faja and the chullo the symbols that are used are the same as it was for our parents and grandparents. For example there is a calendar faja, and even with the arrival of modern calendars it is very important for those of us who understand it, there are the birds, the blossomings, the crops, the season to build houses, and also the fishing season, and also some festivities, for example the festivity to the dead, the arrival of new animals, and also the New Year, each in their own time. It is the same cosmological view that our grandparents had, but our textiles have also evolved, for example, here they are using the rainbow colours quite a bit nowadays. So I asked my grandfather why, since they could make many colours, why they didn’t use rainbow colours. He said that back then they respected the rainbow, and, using its colours, the rainbow could burn people or take their intestines out.
But nowadays us young people are changing, and know that when we use the rainbow colour we have never been burnt. Maybe our grandparents wanted to protect respect for the rainbow in this way, which it’s true, it must be respected, so that even today it is still like a sign, when the rainbow falls in June or May we know that rain will stop. If there is a rainbow at sundown, then it won’t rain. If there is a rainbow at sunrise, then it is going to rain. This is the forecast. Maybe our grandparents attitude was to protect themselves, but you can see that in using the colours our textiles have evolved.
And another example, one of my sisters had woven a faja with a space shuttle. And I asked her why she had woven, what does it mean, and my sister says, I don’t know, but that year, of the Challenger space shuttle I think that when it took off and exploded in mid air, they gave the news on television and my sister had seen the whole tragedy, she was very affected by it, so then she had woven what she had felt.
Anyway, that’s why I say that in the faja are woven all the impacts our life has had, so then they stay there like a register, through symbols, a person’s life, his future, his feelings, his plans, the impacts on his life.
What I understand is that culture belongs to the person who lives it. It doesn’t belong to he who stopped living, for example, I see that there are many cultures, or many customs, that have disappeared, but, nevertheless, they say, it is ours but they don’t live it anymore. They’ve changed their ways of celebrating, their clothing, everything has changed. And where they have their past, they only have a museum, a doll dressed up, that is like that. But not in Taquile, it is still alive, it is walking. Well, Taquile in this case would be like a living museum.
The faja too is living, it is like a body. There is a heart, and also that which supports the faja, that which secures it at the back, is like the arms. But also, it has a head with its braids, like its hair. Yes, it is alive, it is practically alive. So a knitter or a weaver cannot cut his own textile, it is a sin, he or she simply cannot cut it. Now with the chullo, as a child I would watch my grandfather when he was knitting his chullos, and I found it really interesting, really prett and I wanted to do it. At some point, my grandfather left his knitting, thread, everything, while I was playing and my grandfather said, do you want to knit, and I said yes, I want to knit. Well at that moment, my grandfather was just about to give me his threads, but my grandmother said no, she said to me, you have to go and tend to the sheep.
At that time I didn’t understand why my grandmother, was telling me first you have to tend to the sheep when all I wanted to do was knit. But anyway, I was little and went with the sheep into the field to run with them, which was also a lot of fun. To go down to the lake with the sheep, go and look for pasture for them was very interesting, but still I wanted to knit. Anyway, several years passed, or several months or years, and for the first time I saw how a little sheep was born, and its wool grew, and then, when it was ready for shearing, my mother sheared the wool and said, here it is, now you have to make your own thread. The next day I tried threading the apuscan, the spindle.
It started to move, and I began to make my threads in such a way that maybe my faith or the belief of my grandfather worked. I mean, really it is a medicine that truly cured me, because I felt like spinning, I made my first threads, and when I had just made them, my grandfather was also just preparing his needles and said, there you go, now you are going to knit. Only in the colour white, like the sheep, only in white. And I already wanted to make the little birds, and the symbols, but first I had to finish a complete white cap. Boring.
Luckily my grandfather taught me to be very patient when knitting, patient to create my own cap from the sheep wool and I did it and finished the plain white chullo. It was badly made, badly shaped but when I’d finished, my grandfather took out his red, blue, green, yellow threads, all his threads, right there; now you can make your chullo, he said. Then I started. First I didn’t like that colour combination, I started to create my own combinations and what I learned when I finished ahhh, everyone, older boys would laugh at me.
It was shameful. I liked those colours, but then I understood that the colours that I had used were all wrong because the colours that combine are yellow and green, or with blue. They are the only colours that are always used here. And in some way I learned that I had violated the colour code, because all the colours, they also have a meaning. They would say, for example, if I had used black instead of blue, and instead of red a darker colour, why a chullo of this colour, darker, you know? Because I like the darker colour, I thought the yellows would reflect too much, but then I realised, when a person would say, ahhh you are a widower, where do you come from, you must be from another planet?
So that is a colour code, but the chullo is also personal. For someone who doesn’t know, the chullos they look all the same, but each Taquileño when he sees a fabric, he recognises it quickly. If you wear this, my chullo, and you go and show it to someone and ask them, whose textile is this they will tell you that belongs to Juan. Many of us know each other from our knitting or weaving, they are our colours, but with a naked eye they all look the same.
In some families, when it is about getting together and starting living together, couples have to pass the test of their textiles’ skill. Sometimes, the father of the girl has to check the make of the chullo that has to be strong, a very strong fabric, it has to hold well and also some families pour water in it…So then, almost, almost the whole family has to see if the young man has the skill to knit well, to knit his textile waterproof. And the family has to see that the water is still in the chullo, if still some is there. This is the way one starts performing in society.