Handicrafts from Colombia

About one million Colombians live directly or indirectly from the handicraft sector, particularly dynamic in the country. This sector, which contributes significantly to the national economy, has about 350,000 artisans, of which approximately 60% come from rural areas and indigenous communities, and 65% are women. The richness and diversity of Colombian handicrafts were the subject of an unprecedented exhibition at WIPO headquarters from 25 September to 12 October, which jointly organized WIPO and the Government of Colombia.

The exhibited pieces came from the Colombian handicrafts Collection, a government entity dedicated to the promotion and development of the artisanal sector in the country. The Colombian Government encourages artisans to use the intellectual property system to protect their creations and obtain equitable remuneration for their efforts, as well as to preserve the country’s national heritage for future generations.

At the inauguration of the exhibition, Ms. Clemency Forero Ucros, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, described Colombian craftsmanship as the ultimate representation of culture, idiosyncrasy and Folklore of the country. He also stressed the importance for a country like Colombia of “working closely with WIPO to protect its cultural expressions.”

In the exhibition, pieces of jewellery, silver, basketry, tapestry, and ceramics were admired, as well as wooden masks and hand-woven articles, made in various regions and by numerous indigenous groups. Due to the lack of space, only examples of three of these traditional artisanal forms could be shown.

The heritage of the Zenúes

The hat “Vueltiao “, one of the best known and popular symbols of Colombia, is the piece of Colombian craftsmanship par excellence. The hats are the work of the indigenous zenúes, who use colors, designs and traditional weaving techniques dating back more than a thousand years. The zenúes apply a complex traditional method to transform the natural fiber of cane arrow into black and white fibers that then weave forming drawings that represent totemic elements of the Zenú culture. These have traditional names, like the heart of the fan, the crocodile flower, etc. Nowadays, the zenúes use these traditional techniques to elaborate a whole range of articles for the house.

Spider tissue

The women of the Wayúu indigenous community, of the Guajira Peninsula, on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, claim that it was Waleker (the spider) who taught them to weave. The secrets of their traditional weaving techniques are part of the rites of initiation to which adolescents undergo to become women. The intricate Kanás (designs) hand-woven are an ancestral manifestation of wayúu art and represent elements present in the matriarchal structure of its society, its environment and its daily life.

Grass Varnish-MOP resin

The indigenous community of the Department of Nariño (Colombia) developed a technique to extract the resin from the mop-mop tree, which heat and dye with vegetable dyes to obtain thin sheets. They then apply these lamellas to the surface of wooden objects, composing beautiful drawings. This ancient technique, known as grass varnish, has been preserved to this day and is used to make modern drawings on trays and plates, vases, boxes and other objects. This technique requires a great skill, as the colored fragments should be carefully placed on the wood surface to give the desired consistency and tone to the drawings.

The pottery of the Chama

Horse and rider is a piece of black pottery made by Eduardo Sandoval through traditional techniques of the community of La Chama, which he learned from his grandfather. The potters of the Chama make pieces of black or red ceramics, which polish rubbing with agates and pebbles. Mr. Sandoval learned these techniques as a child; Afterwards, he studied fine arts, painting and sculpture. He regularly receives clay from the Chama in his study in Bogotá and combines the techniques learned in his youth with his academic training to create unique works that have earned him local recognition.