An exhibition at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg is showcasing the success of co-operatives run by women artisans.
‘Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities’ profiles 11 artisan co-operatives from countries including in India, Rwanda, Morocco and Peru.
As well as photos and videos, the exhibition also contains examples of some products made by the co-ops – such as jewellery, embroidered quilts, hand-woven baskets, bags and textiles, and is hosting guest lectures and practical demonstrations.
Another element is the Immersive Guatemala experience – a virtual reality tour of the sights and sounds of women’s weaving groups in the country. The tour tells the story of how the groups’ organisation, distribution and determination of their own prices has helped them avoid exploitation from intermediaries.
The tour also aims to show how keeping the artisans’ artistic heritage alive helps maintain a strong sense of indigenous identity. Having endured a civil war and genocide from 1960 to 1996, co-operatives in Guatemala had helped provide indigenous women with a new hope and sense of community, as well as supporting a culture which could have been lost in the decades of trouble.
One group of co-ops featured in the exhibition are those in the lowlands of Nepal, where women from the Maithili culture traditionally painted designs on the mud walls of their homes. They began to paint those same designs on to handmade paper and formed the Janakpur Women’s Development Center. They then found an outside market for their artworks and found a steady livelihood through selling the works.
“Now I can buy milk, pens and books, and pay the tuition for my children,” says artist Manjula Devi Thakur. “I’m strong now. I can move ahead.”
Another featured co-operative is in Swaziland, where more than 50 local women formed a basket-weaving co-operative. Profits have been used to provide education, medicine, build a soup kitchen and other services for hundreds of local children orphaned by AIDS.
- For more information on the exhibition, visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights website. Empowering Women runs until 8 January 2017.