Performance Crafting: The Political Act of Weaving

Tanya Weaving.
Tanya Aguiñiga in Chiapas.

From age 4 to age 18, I crossed the US/Mexico border on a daily basis to go to school. We lived in Tijuana, and I studied in San Diego. Now, as a maker of objects, and as a border transplant, I often travel to other countries and regions to study local craft traditions. Crossing borders again, I envelop myself in a region's history, learning their specialized techniques and often incorporating my translation of that material or technique into my own work. I do this as a way to speak to the history of the region and current cultural issues while simultaneously bringing craft to the forefront of artistic expression.

But crafting is often a solitary act. Hours I spend in my studio, creating objects that will end up on someone's wrist or in their living room. But what if crafting was public? What if crafting could become a political act or inspire a moment of the uncanny? Crafting is seen as separate from art, but I want to change that. For this Artbound series, I plan to explore the notion of performance crafting. I believe in using preconceived notions of objects and materials as design elements to create a platform for discussing greater cultural issues and form meaningful relationships across regions and cultures. These "performance crafting" events bring the intimate and solitary activities of my work into the public, activating spaces and encouraging contemplation of people's interaction with the natural and urban environments. For the next few months I will be staging performance craft events and chronicling the process in text and images here on Artbound.


For my first performance crafting piece, I will be exploring a technique called backstrap weaving. I learned the craft of hand-making textiles from women artisans around the world, from India and Mongolia to Chiapas, Mexico. In Chiapas, I discovered a technique that inspired me. When creating fabric, the women of Chiapas strap themselves into a harness that attaches the woman to a wall or heavy object, which acts as a counterbalance for the physically demanding actions of weaving. This ancient technique, backstrap weaving, uses the body of the woman as a mechanism within the textile process. The body moves with the rhythms of weaving, creating textiles with motion.

For this project, I plan to stage plein air weaving sessions that physically connect my body, in the same manner as the women weavers of Chiapas, to various Southern California landscapes/objects.


On one hand, this action will be a moment of the absurd, infusing myself into public spaces while performing a seemingly strange and incongruous act. How will people in Beverly Hills react to a modern woman performing this traditional indiginous technique? How does that dialogue change when I work in East L.A. or at the Griffith Park Observatory? And how will I react to these people?

On the other hand, this action will create a literal umbilical that literally ties me to the landscape. The act of tying oneself to an object is also imbued with the spirit of protest, as generations of activists have chained themselves to buildings, trees, and other places that needed attention.


I will perform this piece in June, and in July I will report back with my first exploration into this new medium that proves that crafting is not the lesser sibling of fine art; crafting is art.


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