The digital era of Latin American Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship
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Our reality is one filled with paradoxical situations colliding into each other: Even though we’re living in a world within its peak of the digital age, mass innovations, and globalization through all sorts of communication technology; we live in an unbalanced social scenario in which race or ethnicity is often a marker of advantage or disadvantage, and the erasure of identity and cultural diversity is relatively common to gain more economic freedom. 

This necessity for immediate change in favor of giving a platform to the authentic and diverse has called forth a new consumer culture that values genuine and meaningful work. In that sense, the production of traditional crafting in its various forms has been an important focus of attention, mostly for its links with many aspects of social, economic, and cultural life. 

As Surnai Benítez (2009), Advisor for the Cuban Fund of Cultural Assets, once explained: “…Traditional crafting is increasing and gaining recognition. It is associated with new notions and concepts as the importance of preserving cultural diversity, the active role of traditional knowledge in the dynamics of social change and the central position of culture and creativity as a factor of human development”. 

In a way, crafting is the heart of cultural identity, as it connects and interacts with other cultural activities of a place and gives life and movement to the people.

Craftsmanship in exchange for social and economical development

In Latin America, the production of hand-made articles is an activity often found as an inherent practice within entire communities, where teachings and techniques get spread by word from generation to generation, improving by trial and error as time passes. So what might have been formerly perceived as a mere souvenir from outsiders today signifies a regional treasure that represents the precious human capacity they possess, as well as ancient knowledge shaped and developed through time. The brilliant potential of these practices now fosters the prospect of social, cultural, and economic development of these communities while strengthening their sense of belonging, meaning they could obtain both spiritual and material wealth from these activities. 

These communities are now facing the challenges of the globalization process. Their symbolic productions will require innovative approaches and discernments to integrate themselves into the world’s social fabric. 

Traditional artisans must learn to grow resilient against industrial design but acknowledge the potential that digital and assembling tools possess for its traditional crafting and how it could transform and innovate their products while still preserving its authenticity at its very core.

Tecnological appropiation: the achievements of fab labs

These contemplations have been posed by many before, but one organization stands out in truly contributing to the evolution of craftsmanship, by way of integrating artisan skills with computerized methods.

Fab Labs is an organization created by the Spanish Government and MIT, whose purpose is to provide facilities and innovation support through systemized learning and mobile installations. They launched a branch of these experiments called FabLat in 2016, to integrate contemporary digital design with traditional craft in various areas of Latin America. This company strives for the sustainability and improvement of small communities while preserving the identity of their designs and popular traditions. 

So with the help of Latin American architects and designers specialized in programming, traditional artisans managed to prototype their design, thus adapting to methods and techniques that enhanced their creations and strengthened regional character.  

The results coming from these experiments were a wide variety of wonderful and intricate products, each of them containing every bit of uniqueness that its predecessors had. Here are some of the best instances and our personal favorites: 

Origen peregrino

It was developed by Ricardo Torres as a neo artisan production of the advertising company Origen Peregrino, which is a Peruvian design studio that merged the works of TAG Estudio Gráfico and Lau Toyosato to redesign artisan doll-like pieces of Andean origin by replacing materials and hand paint new designs to turn it into an artistic and commercial product. In a cheeky but amicable way, its creations resemble exactly what the website of the brand states: 

“Origen Peregrino is sharing the ideal trip we undertake throughout Peru to meet, learn and understand our culture”.

Losing my america by gt2p

As its website expresses, the creator of this collection searched for techniques and artisans with a high socio-cultural value, with the potential to collaborate with designers through the exchange of knowledge in practice, seeking to systematize the craftwork techniques and strengthen their local economies. The following craft pieces, which were produced by artisans of Chile, Mexico, and Brazil, are exquisite articles coming out of 3D prototyping and hand molding. 

Alada by FADU-UBA

This Argentinian creation was an experimental project that combines parametric-analog morphogenesis and digital fabrication in a process of architectural-spatial discovery. Taking inspiration from FabLabs, this school of architecture generated its own lab (+ID Lab) to endorse experimental workshops.  During the course of its creation, there was a strong influence from the collective of the community, so the final result of the shape was accomplished by several local actors aside from its authors. 

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