Posted on 8 March 2014 | No responses
One day we visited the Christmas fair at the American school and discovered some unique, beautiful mirrors, paintings and coat hooks being sold by Daniela Lorini. She was there with her partner, Arnaud, selling her art works which stood out among the collection of crafts there. We started talking and before we left Dani asked for our contact details. At the time I thought she was just being polite but they were different. They remembered us and invited us over for dinner in the new year. We instantly connected.
I started hanging out at Dani’s place one day a week – sometimes helping with her art and other times simply chatting but always sharing about various topics together. Dani’s art is done with a pyrograph. She burns her organic designs onto wood, as she writes on her website ”designs drawn by the fire” and then paints in bright oils. When I leave Bolivia I will hold this woman and those days together so dearly in my heart. I want to remember her big woolly jumpers, her dark hair swept across her face often being held back by her big red glasses, the long conversations about life, the shared lunches and of course, the creativity! She has been my closest friend here and I have treasured her authenticity and natural way of interacting. I’m going to miss her so much… I hope you enjoy this post about my gorgeous friend.
What got you interested in art and how did your career start?
Since I was a kid I loved to paint – I was painting all the time, always different things. When I was in kindergarten I won a prize for one of my paintings and since then I never stopped painting. After school I studied architecture and when I was at university I really loved it because you can do whatever you want – your imagination flows! But when you get a job things are different, especially here in La Paz because construction people don’t care so much about design. They just care about being able to rent it out and that’s why we have all these ugly buildings here, because they are cheaper to build. Young architects can’t be creative. Jobs are hard to get here so people do what the big construction companies want.
So, after university I worked as an architect for 2 years, but I’ve never stopped painting. My last job in this period was in the municipality of La Paz and this was the worst job I have had in my life because I couldn’t be creative at all. I was working in the section of the municipality that evicted illegal residents from land that the council wanted back to use as a green area… which is ok because we don’t have many green areas in the city, but the hard part of the job was taking away people’s houses, even though they were illegal. It was really hard and sad. I couldn’t stay in that job… I stayed just 6 months.
After that I went to Argentina to do a maestría en desarrollo sustentable, Masters in Sustainable Development. I really liked this because I didn’t have to just think like an architect or an artist but I could also think about the environment. It wasn’t just construction or design – you think about lifestyle, your neighbours and how you impact their lives. You have to care about water, energy, recycling, animals… so it’s not so narrow thinking and ignoring the others. Normally everyone has a specialisation and they just focus on their own area and forget all the other things that they impact on. It’s like when you see a doctor and they just look at one issue in your body instead of treating you holistically – it’s the same with architecture. People will build a huge building, for example, but will not care if the neighbours now don’t have access to sun or a view. This is happening right here, in La Paz… even from my apartment, I have this huge building blocking my view and sun now.
While I was in Buenos Aires I started to design little objects because I really love designing and painting. I wanted to mix design and art so that’s why I started to design functional art objects for myself like furniture and homewares. For me, each object I design is also a piece of art because it is unique and I’m against replicating things – people are unique so each object should be unique for the person who buys it. That’s why I’ll never reproduce things like a factory. I also started and incorporated pyrography after I saw a small box with a pattern burnt into it and I thought ‘I can do that!’. It was a really different technique for me so I started to wood-burn the objects I designed. I didn’t have a wood-burner so I decided to start with a soldering iron – it was so difficult to burn the wood, but I loved it from the beginning.
After 4 years making just objects and some furniture I realised that I wanted to make bigger things so I started making paintings, combining different techniques like pyrography, oils and engraving. Paintings are really my passion because I have a bigger surface to expand my imagination and you can combine more techniques and materials.
What influences your work?
The thing that influences me most is nature – animals and plants. I feel very connected with nature. I think it is in perfect balance. That’s my highest inspiration. I use the patterns found in nature, its organic shapes, in all my work. Also, the connection between human beings and the environment is important to me. My strongest connection is with a wild animal who came into my life 14 years ago because human beings killed his mum. He’s still part of my life and is constantly teaching me, connecting with me and reminding me of what’s important because his situation is due to humans and their selfish, thoughtless actions. I love “Cubai” with all my heart and I’m very grateful to have the pleasure to have met such an extraordinary animal in my life!
My recent collective exhibition was called Yo Natura, Me Nature. My influence for that collection was the life in the ocean. I painted sea animals and plants from both the deep oceans and the shallow waters. I love to use bright colours because you have more contrast with the pyrography which is mostly brown and black. Also, I use engraving to create various levels in the surface of the wood, creating texture and movement in each piece of art. For example, laminaria is a painting you have at home that reminds us of the big algae of the ocean. I used bright yellow, orange, pyrography and also engraving. You really get a feeling of movement in this work. I wanted to paint this algae because I love their organic shapes, the way they move in harmony and how they hide and protect lots of small animals. I decided to paint these aquatic shapes because, well, in Bolivia we don’t have access to the ocean and this is a bizarre, unknown world for me that fills me with fascination. On one of my trips to France I spent time in Brittany with my partner’s family, who lives really close to the ocean. We spent a lot of time there – watching, snorkeling and observing aquatic life that for me was completely different and unknown. I felt like I was floating in the sky. The water was so clear you could see everything – crabs, small fish, starfish and the textures of the shells which are really amazing and full of shapes. These were also my inspiration because I try to focus carefully, paying a lot of attention to the small textures and details that are easy to miss.
Since you feel so connected to the environment as your inspiration, how do you feel about all the environmental issues in the world?
I’m feeling really sad because many people don’t seem to care about nature, animals or plants. They seem to just care about themselves. They are selfish and just care about money, career, their comforts and having more material things. I think that we came after most of the animals and plants so we have to understand that nature is not our property even though human beings think it is and we can dispose of it. It’s not like that – we are part of nature, we are part of this world and we have to live in harmony with everything. I want my art to remind people of this. That’s why I paint mostly of nature and its patterns. Today, people are forgetting to live in harmony, being connected and close to nature. That’s why I really focus on these small textures and patterns in nature that most people ignore or don’t care about. Now society is more materialistic, even here in Bolivia in the big cities. People in the countryside are more connected than city people but even they are losing connection… I think most people in this society treat money as the meaning of life and that’s wrong.
How does the situation and attitudes in Bolivia affect your career? Who buys your work?
To be an artist in Bolivia is really hard because people think that art is not a proper job, it’s like a hobby to them. Also, they are more preoccupied getting other things, rather than a piece of art. They prefer to have a big car or house for example. So for me, it’s really hard because 90% of the people who buy my work are foreigners. I think they appreciate the work that goes into a piece of art. They understand that being an artist is a real job and a way of expressing yourself and communicating ideas. Also, it’s true that most people in Bolivia don’t earn a lot of money so buying art is not a priority for them – they need to pay for food, rent, bills, etc. and any money left over isn’t for buying art. Generally, people here don’t know much about art because it’s not really part of schooling and university. There is are no History of Art degrees in Bolivia, for example. It’s difficult for all of the arts here, including music, dance, theatre and others. This makes it hard for people to understand and appreciate – they don’t understand that my technique is completely unique and different and that this should make my work more valuable. Most of the art work sold here is in the tourist area and represents stereotypical images of cholitas [the indigenous Aymara women who wear large skirts and bowler hats] and mountain scenes with llamas and so it’s hard for them to understand my art which is more abstract.
I know you are also working hard on getting your grandfather’s chocolate factory up and running again… can you tell me a bit about it and why this project is important to you?
Yes, I have been working really hard in this factory. It was the chocolate factory of my grandfather and has been closed for more than 20 years. It was called Valach… maybe some people of the 70′s remember it because it was a very big factory indeed, but my grandfather didn’t like to work too much so the factory had to close.
My dad kept most of the chocolate machines for us because he knew that finding a good job in this moment could be hard and he was right, especially if you decide to be an artist. So, Arnaud and I started to work there one year ago, to improve our salaries. Arnaud was demolishing some of the walls and I was carrying the rubble. It helps us save a little bit of money because our budget was and is reduced.
It has now been over a year, we are still working there, now my siblings are in too and also some bricklayers and one of my best friends who knows more about construction. We would love to start producing good chocolate as soon as we can. We are thinking to use wild cacao because it’s more tasty, fragrant, strong and comes directly from the forest – it’s a very nice gift from nature that we want people to know more about. Our desire is to stay small. We don’t want a huge chocolate factory, like Nestle, which produces bad quality chocolate – we want to produce small quantities of good quality chocolate, incorporating art and creativity in each of them to have a different product.
What are your dreams for the future?
I want to do artist residencies in other countries because this gives an opportunity to share my work with other artists, develop my portfolio, have more experiences and improve my technique and knowledge.
Another of my dreams is to show my work in different parts of Bolivia as well as in other countries. Bolivia is a really small country and the artist community is so small and closed that it is hard for me to break into that community. I want to travel to places where people appreciate my work more. Including Bolivia in the international art community is another way to discuss issues in the world. Of course issues are addressed through politics, academia and more but art is also a way to communicate, discuss, evoke emotions and make statements about the world we live in. For example, here in Bolivia we still have many areas of wilderness but in places like France they don’t have so much wilderness so why not use art to also communicate this?
I have lots of dreams! I also want to live on a farm because there is not so much inspiration in a big city for me. Living on a farm in the countryside will connect me even more with nature, giving me more peace and inspiration for my art.
I want to travel a lot because you can meet beautiful, different people and have more experiences of life. But for a Bolivian, it’s really hard to travel because we are not accepted in most countries – we need visas and everything is more complicated and expensive for us. There’s not so much exchange between Bolivians and the rest of the world.
At the moment I have a problem because I was accepted for a residency in France but I don’t have the funds to go there. It’s really hard to find funds. So, I need to find a way to get the money to get to France. I’m thinking about crowd funding and other ways that you and Jean have suggested to me. I might also approach the embassies here and the art foundation of the Central Bank of Bolivia. The reason this residency is so exciting to me is because I can work on one of my projects which is about empathy. I want to explore the empathy between human beings, nature, animals and plants to talk about how we are losing these important connections. All my art projects are related to nature so I want to show this loss of empathy that is resulting in killing our planet. I want people to open their eyes and realise that if we don’t change our attitude we will kill our planet and have nothing left. Animals are becoming extinct, we are contaminating our water, climate change is worse every day… if we don’t change our way of life we we are going to kill everything. This is always the relationship I want to show in my work. Society is losing connection, even with other human beings… everything is ME, ME, ME… and so the question can be… when was the last time you felt empathy for someone or something? Can you feel the same thing that our environment, our plants and our animals are feeling?
I am happy because I believe that if you are a good person in your life, doing good things, I think good things can come to you… like Carly and Jean came to me! hehehe…
Posted on 6 March 2014 | No responses
Soon after we arrived in Bolivia we met Diane Bellomy. Diane’s work was very interesting to me since she owns a Fair Trade business called Artesania Sorata, producing and selling hand dyed and handmade alpaca clothing, accessories and home wares that are generally made by women. Here in La Paz there are very few places that sell genuinely handmade, genuinely Bolivian or genuinely Fair Trade alpaca wear, despite the numerous shops in the tourist street Calle Sagarnaga claiming some of these. So, before long I started volunteering unofficially around 3-4 days a week, for around a year. During this time I met many of the women working for Diane, learnt their stories, deepened my understanding of Fair Trade and helped organise a few aspects of Artesania Sorata.
Diane is the only Bolivian Story we’ll post of a non-Bolivian. She’s American, but she’s been in Bolivia for over 35 years, working with and for Bolivians. In 1977, disillusioned and unsatisfied on some level with the political, economic, and cultural realities of the United States, Diane was drawn to the indigenous cultures of South America. In 1978 after settling in the village of Sorata, and making friends with the local Aymara [the indigenous peoples in the altiplano and valleys of northern Bolivia] she realised that many of the ladies there were in need of income, basic skills and support systems. From humble beginnings, of a few cholitas [indigenous women wearing traditional clothing] making rag dolls and the village children making pictures from fabric scraps, a handcrafts group, Artesania Sorata, was created.
Diane was driven by some very core values. She feels everyone should have a right to provide basics to their families – education, nutritious diet, good health care, etc. Here, especially in rural areas, people may wish for these things but usually they don’t have the opportunity to make them real in their lives. In both rural and urban areas of Bolivia, despite hard work a family can’t always provide sufficient income to properly nourish, educate and provide medical care.
Artesania Sorata supports the empowerment of women and the vulnerable, focusing on those living in poverty and with disabilities. They are a firm supporter of indigenous identity and the value of living a sustainable lifestyle close to nature. By helping the women of the family create extra income, Artesania Sorata creates opportunities to be creative and productive, empowering these women whose abilities are often denied their true value in today’s society. The artisans enjoy being part of Artesania Sorata because it allows them to work from home and be there for their children. They feel it improves their lives to have their own money also. Positive change for these women is very much linked to being able to knit, sew or weave at home and take care of their children while earning a living wage for their work. When mum is at home their children are less at risk of abuse and exploitation. The mother-child connection is so strong that every artisan I have spoken with mentions their children as their reason for working. The flow on effect is huge! These women, who perhaps didn’t have the opportunity to finish their own schooling, are now able to provide a better education for their children than was available to them when they were young. It has been shown time and time again that empowering women by providing opportunities for women and girls through education, health, and access to jobs and financing is the best way to reduce poverty and increase economic development, creating invaluable benefits that ripple throughout an entire community.
At Artesania Sorata the artisans create textile art in the form of dolls, cloth pictures, homewares and alpaca clothing using traditional skills of natural dying as well as hand weaving, hand spinning and hand knitting. By using the traditional methods of production Diane provides income to an increased number of people but also encourages value in traditional native skills. She says she has found that “artisans flourish and develop skills and creativity” this way. The artisans are inspired by their daily lives but also use their creativity to give voice to struggles on poverty, migration and the search for greater opportunities. Their textiles represent expressions, statements, visions and dreams.
Textiles have always been an important part of Bolivian tradition. Since childhood the Aymara learn to tend sheep and alpaca, spin, weave and dye yarn to make their clothing, blankets and ‘carrying cloths’.
“In this changing world their Aymara traditions have been falling into disuse in their search for identity in a culture superimposed upon them. In order to revive their traditional techniques and express their personal creativity while generating income for their families, the artisans of Artesania Sorata are working together to present their artistic interpretations to the world”.
Over the years the artisans have deepened their understanding as to why this kind of work is important too, especially as they see positive change in a very practical and meaningful way. It has been proven many times that women involved in fair trade work have better access to health care, job rights and freedom from harassment. Not only does Artesania Sorata provide income, but has helped in providing other forms of life skills. Diane realised shortly after she began working with the Sorata artisans that most of the women she was working with hadn’t had the opportunity to go to school, therefore didn’t know how to read and write – so she started providing literacy classes. She also organised for a nurse to come and address various health issues – from sexual health to respiratory illnesses and intestinal problems. More recently, the focus has shifted more towards families and children with disabilities as that’s an area where there is very little support in Bolivia. Diane says “it feels so right to be able to bring something from the modern world [hearing aids] and help people here have a more productive life”.
During my time volunteering for Artesania Sorata I decided to help Diane market her products by organising a photo shoot, styling her products in more modern ways. A friend, Elaine Santana, agreed to collaborate with me by taking some of the photos. I managed to convince volunteers to model for us in the streets of La Paz! Below are just some of the images we achieved.
If you would like to see more from our photo shoot here are the links to the ‘fashion’ look book and the ‘homewares’ look book. Here’s a sneak preview of the homewares…
The fibres used by all the artisans at Artesania Sorata are dyed by hand using traditional and natural ingredients. The years of experimentation have resulted in a wealth of knowledge and range of colours they are very proud of. The natural dyes used are kinder on the environment and ultimately kinder on the skin of the wearer. Working this way is a beautiful process of adapting to the ever shifting seasons and learning to work with the earth in a non-harmful way. The experience itself of gathering the leaves, seedpods or plants and cooking them to extract their colours is something very close to magic. Artesania Sorata produces rich browns from walnut leaves, yellows from onion skins, purples to violent reds from cochineal [a beetle that feeds on the red fruit on cactus here] and shades of vibrant greens from carrot tops and eucalyptus.
I became fascinated with the natural dying processes and materials that they use at Artesania Sorata. I decided that if I was backpacking through La Paz, visiting Artesania Sorata’s workshop, meeting the artisans and learning about natural dying is something I would love to do. For this reason, I put together a tourism concept for Diane which we trialed with some friends who were visiting La Paz. Below is the video that I created about this. The tour is yet to be a regular event but I still believe it would be a wonderful way to generate a little extra income whilst giving tourists a more authentic and personal experience in this chaotic city.
Working at Artesania Sorata really deepened my understanding of Fair Trade. Diane believes that Fair Trade is a philosophy that can create lasting change and is not just a cliché. “The only way that we can have a peaceful and sustainable planet is to think each act of production and purchasing through and make educated decisions based on the ideals that give us the satisfaction that we are making responsible decisions with each act, no matter how insignificant it may seem.”
As I’ve learnt more about Fair Trade it has become clear that it’s not just your individuality that suffers when you aren’t conscientious about what you buy… cheap clothing and items mean you don’t always know where they are made, who made them and under what conditions they were produced. I’d like everyone to think about this more and I’d like to share the Fair Trade principles with you to think about too.
Whilst Artesania Sorata is an accomplishment in itself, Diane hasn’t stopped there. She has also helped children with disabilities, especially those with hearing loss. Together with a state program she organised a campaign to identify children with hearing loss who were in need of hearing aids and educational opportunities. With the help of volunteers, Diane raised funds to provide transport for children with hearing loss to the only school in La Paz with teachers trained in sign language. They also made contacts with organisations to provide donations of hearing aids for these children. Artesania Sorata continued to help this population in many ways, including raising funds for signing interpreters, enabling deaf and hard-of-hearing students to attend regular high school. Diane has also arranged for international professionals specialised in these areas, to volunteer.
During my time with Diane I also made her facebook page more active, took numerous photos of products, added her to Trip Advisor, put together a database of customers linked to a newsletter, completely updated her pricelists with photos and helped in whatever ways I could in designing new products, rearranging the stores and generally supporting her with her work. We are beginnig to see the results of my efforts, yet business in La Paz has become difficult. It’s hard to compete with the Peruvian, machine made, alpaca-synthetic blended items that line the street on either side of Artesania Sorata. Fair trade products are more expensive and often the fast-moving tourist does not easily distinguish between factory made souvenirs and a labour of love and values. Diane has struggled as of late to maintain financially, which is unfortunate given the wonderful work she does to support local woman and children. I encourage you to help the valuable work that Diane has dedicated a lifetime to here in Bolivia.
You can do this by passing the word about Artesania Sorata to visitors to Bolivia or businesses who might be interested in acquiring the unique products that are made by the artisans who work with Diane. Also you can make a donation that can be used directly to train women in handcrafts techniques or help children with hearing loss to achieve their full potential through education and hearing aids. This can be done through her website which has a PAYPAL function at the bottom of this page:
Or, if you are interested in purchasing some of Artesania Sorata’s products, simply request a price list from Diane by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can make a purchase on the products page of the website, where at the bottom of the page is a PAYNOW button.
I’d like to leave you with a quote of Diane’s from another interview she did, with Matthew Goethals:
“A perspective that I don’t think is promoted enough is one of investing in our society rather than just our own personal gains. If our society is strong – of a greater quality, and people are treated fairly, and you build a peaceful society – there is tremendous value in that. Most people don’t trust the progress that society could make, so many people don’t want to invest in it. But again, if we had more people who considered the value of a harmonious society, and invested more in that… I wonder how much better off we would be.”
Posted on 4 March 2014 | No responses
We are packing. We are moving to Australia, starting all again. I find myself a little teary occasionally as I say goodbye to all our babies – our plants, bacterias and yeasts I’ve nurtured carefully over the years here in Bolivia. Kombucha SCOBYs, kefir grains, sourdough starter, worms and apple cider vinegar mothers all to be distributed to caring souls wanting to improve their health. I think about the future, starting them all again. I’ve had so much pleasure with my weekly routines – feeding the worms, watering the plants, kneading the sourdough, bottling the kombucha…
Anyway, I’m a sentimental [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 28 February 2014 | No responses
Our first trip out of La Paz after we arrived in Bolivia was to Lake Titicaca for a long weekend away. We spent a couple of nights on Isla del Sol in an eco-lodge, which is where we met Enrique and Paola. They became our very first friends here. During that weekend on Isla del Sol we enjoyed dinner together each evening, laughing and talking about everything from heavy metal to politics. Back in La Paz our friendship grew, including pot lucks at our home and sometimes Enrique and Jean would ‘jam’ together – Enrique on guitar and Jean [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 27 February 2014 | No responses
We decided to visit Bolivia’s largest glass factory that uses only recycled glass to produce some of their wonderfully organically shaped round glasses like the ones shown in the below photos.
We were in for a very warm welcome and tour thanks to Marcelo who, along with his father and brother, run the factory in Cochabamba. Actually, it was his father who founded the Fair Trade business in 1993. After having a small workshop transforming plastic, someone suggested he could easily do glass instead and at the time the Dutch government was offering funding… and so it was born! Now [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 26 February 2014 | No responses
Do you make water kefir? Our grains are multiplying beautifully lately!
Sorry… I’ve got ahead of myself… do you know what water kefir is? Well, like our milk kefir, water kefir is a beneficial probiotic beverage that tastes delicious. It’s so simple to make. The flavour is like a ‘dry, slightly fizzy lemonade’. Like kombucha it is first cultured by introducing a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts) into sugar water – the SCOBY in this case are called grains. The beneficial bacteria and yeasts present in the water kefir grains metabolize the sugar, turning it into an array of beneficial [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 24 February 2014 | No responses
One day we visited the Museum of Contemporary Art here in La Paz, Bolivia, and became captivated by the works of Luis Alberto Quispe Ochoa (check out his website here). After much deliberation we finally purchased two works that spoke to us. Both were meticulously created with coca leaves and aguayo, which is the traditionally woven textile here. One depicts an indigenous woman’s face while the other is the face of an indigenous man who is wearing a chullo, the traditional knitted woollen hat with flaps to cover the ears. We regularly admire these pieces that now grace our lounge [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 21 February 2014 | 1 response
I met Vanessa when she was heavily pregnant with her baby, Rafaela. She was working at her partner’s restaurant, Red Monkey, as well as producing natural products for her business, Moi. Moi makes handmade cosmetics and personal care products based on natural and organic ingredients, without the use of preservatives, artificial colours or synthetic fragrances, being careful not to degrade our bodies or the environment. Vanessa never stops. I was surprised to see how busy she was whilst heavily pregnant and even since having her little girl it is not uncommon to find her in her workshop making products with her baby [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 19 February 2014 | 2 responses
During many days volunteering at Red Monkey I have admired the vibrant colours, shapes, organic patterns and uniqueness of their plates and bowls. I wondered if there might be a chance we could meet the artist behind these functional works of art and last Friday we were blessed with such a meeting in Cochabamba.
Entering Marcelo’s workshop we could feel the creativity, experience and passion that has created this small craft business, MTM Ceramics. For more than 30 years Marcelo has been collecting the clay for his pieces from local rivers to then shape it into plates, bowls, decorative pieces, mugs, bonsai pots and [...] Continue Reading…
Posted on 11 February 2014 | No responses
We met Rebeca the same night as Pablo, at Red Monkey, the only vegan vegetarian restaurant in La Paz. Rebeca was behind the bar mixing unusual cocktails that combine typically Bolivian ingredients like huacataya and locoto with fresh juices and of course, alcohol. When I turned up at Red Monkey for my first day volunteering in the kitchen Rebeca showed me around their food production garden, which is her baby and love. As we talked it became clear to me that she was feeling overwhelmed as the only person working in the garden, so I suggested I come one day a [...] Continue Reading…