Amelicia Santacruz Alvarez grew up in a Gunadule community on the remote coastal edge of Colombia, her heart set on getting a proper education. After leaving her tight community for university, after earning a Masters in Education; after entering politics and leading the indigenous groups of her region, Amelicia realized that she must return to her own people to get a real education. It was back in her small village, in a circle of grandmothers, that she learned who she really is, where she came from, to whom she belongs.
Amelicia is sharing this with our Ibu allies in Medillín, Colombia two weeks ago, during our Fringe Road adventure. The teachings of the grandmothers did not come in text books, she is saying, but in textiles. Their stories are written in molas, where over 1,500 symbols convey their life together. Up to seven layers of colorful cotton cloth are brought together; and then, in a reverse appliqué language, the top layer is intricately cut in a symbolic pattern, turned back, and secured in tight hand stitches to reveal the color below; the next layer is then cut to reveal the color below it, and on and on until a vivid story unfolds.
The geometric motifs convey energy, she explains, suggesting the earth's cardinal directions, and the unique path of each person. They carry all of our history, our values, our identity. If you were to take away our molas, said Amelicia, it would be like burning down our library. This is how we write.
On our group's first evening in Bogota, days before meeting Amelicia, we were invited to dinner in the home of Yasmin Sabet, founder of Mola Sasa, with whom we've worked since our first days at Ibu. Collaborating with Yasmin on design innovation, we've offered you molas made by Gunadule women in the form of pillows, dresses, jackets, clutches, and bangles. Yasmin, her husband, Pedro, and sons Diego and Gabriel, provided a cozy, artful place for us to get to know our fellow travelers and experience the hospitality of Colombia (including a piano recital by Diego). Yasmin also invited us to visit her design studio, a local craft school, her favorite restaurants for dinner, and led us to the heart-stopping, mind-expanding art studio of Juan Manuel Echavarría—her uncle. All of this making our trip personal, even intimate. Relationships are the beginning and end of all that we do at Ibu—building, cultivating, celebrating them—and weaving threads of connection the world over.
We all belong to this earth, Amelicia reminds us a few days later, pointing to a colorful spiraling mola. This is our sacred truth, she says, reading the radiant textile like the text it is, looking to us to understand the infinite implications of this—how it shifts the ground we stand upon. Each of us has our own spiraling path to walk, she says, but our paths all lead us home, back to who we really are, how we all belong to this fragile planet.
My fingers trace this labyrinth of a mola, feeling the tiny taut stitches laid down by a grandmother who, having lived through a lifetime of violence against her people, disregard, oppressing lack… yet writes this offering to the world. I think of her strong, enduring heart. I think of how we need her wise education now more than ever. I think of this library written in love and beauty. And I know in that moment, more than ever—the only way home is together.
All the best,