As I enter the brilliant Santa Fe International Folk Art Market this week, I notice immediately that the usual flurry of colorful flags and paper flowers are gone. In their place, I see a minimal white canvas and tumbleweed. Dried, dust-colored tumbleweed artfully piled and sculpted throughout the space.
In no time, I'm swept into multi-colored joy of embracing friends I haven't seen throughout the pandemic—Zehra, Hemangini, Magno, Mamta, Wafae, Amina… The world has come to Santa Fe and, whatever the decor, this is a party. It's a high festive moment in my year—this global table around which all can feast on beauty, culture, community, craft.
And yet… the tumbleweed.
I meet for the first time, Lesia Pona from Ukraine, offering the traditional embroidery of her people. We usually embroider for weddings and special occasions, but there are no more of those, she explains to me. We know why. Twelve million people have been displaced by war in Ukraine. Uprooted, like tumbleweed.
I admire the needlework of the displaced women in Palestinian territories and beaded gourds made by women in South Sudan's refugee camps. Everywhere on this planet, waves of people are shifting like sands, blown by uncertain winds which daily change. Like tumbleweed.
100 million people have been forcibly displaced in the world today—more than ever before. How can persons hold on to their identity when they may no longer have family beside them, nor their land beneath their feet, nor food flavored with memories, nor scents or rituals which comfort and define them?
Craft, unlike art, embodies tradition. It's handed down through generations, a continuous thread—telling the story of a people and place. When a community is scattered, sometimes it is the thread alone in a woman's hands which binds her to her past, connects her to her clan, and supports her selfhood when all else is blowing in the wind.
I meet an indigenous woman in Colombia whose community has been driven from their land by war. She is now estranged in the capital city, searching for the fibers of her home region in order to weave the baskets her grandmother taught her to weave—baskets which speak her native language. In the crowded streets of Bogota far from home, this young woman is weaving—weaving not just to earn an income, but to remember who she is.
The feast that is the Folk Art Market has now ended; women and men are packing their bags to return to what may not be their home at all, but a place where they have, for the moment, tumbled. They return emboldened because they have been seen, and known, in these few days, by the beauty they create and the traditions they preserve. They return to pick up a thread and begin again, remembering who they are.
All the best,