‘Empowering Women’ exhibit spotlights artisan co-ops with Northwest connections

Amina Yabis, founder of the Women’s Button Cooperative of Sefrou, Morocco, weaving at the loom with cooperative member Khadija La Adraoui. (Photo by Oriol Llados)

Seattleites are leading the way in a global movement to encourage entrepreneurial collectives run by women in the developing world.

In recent years women-run cooperatives have emerged around the world as a meaningful force for empowerment.

They’ve helped women heal after genocidal wars and created economic opportunities for them to negotiate the modern cash economy on their own terms.

They’ve allowed women to gather together and address specific community needs like health and wellness, and provided opportunities for personal growth and leadership.

Through increasing self-esteem and autonomy, women’s cooperatives have helped community members obtain land rights and develop vital income-building skills.

Now the work of some of these international women-run artisan cooperatives are on view at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

A member of the OckPopTok cooperative in Laos embroidering. (Photo courtesy International Folk Art Market).

A member of the OckPopTok cooperative in Laos embroidering. (Photo courtesy International Folk Art Market).

Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities also includes a section on “transformational goods” — a unique display that features artisan-made items from five cooperatives with ties to Seattle entrepreneurs, citizens, and organizations:

Haiti Babi, a socially conscious business that hires Haitian women to produce modern hand-crafted cotton baby blankets, prides itself on making “hip baby products with meaning.”

Haiti Babi was founded by Seattle residents Kaitlin Jackson, an orphanage volunteer, and Kari Davidson, a UW design student, to encourage moms around the world to support Haitian moms through their purchasing power.

A display of textiles from northern Laos includes colorful hand-woven cotton scarves created by Tai Dam women, contributed to the exhibition byThe Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, Laos. A University of Washington alumni Dr. Linda McIntosh helped establish this museum and another UW graduate, Alicia Akins, is working there currently.

The TAEC is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and interpretation of the traditional arts and lifestyles of the country’s many ethnic groups.

UW grad Kennedy Leavens co-founded and serves as the Executive Director of Awamaki, a cooperative that collaborates with women textile workers in the Incan town of Ollantaytambo in Cusco to nurture economic opportunities and improve social conditions in Peru.

Awamaki builds upon the booming tourist industry in Peru, by organizing weaving lessons and homestays for travelers that provide local families with a direct and sustainable income.

The Snow Leopard Trust, based in Wallingford, partners with herding families in the mountains of Central Asia who share their territory with the endangered snow leopard. By providing the opportunity for artisans to sell their traditional decorative woolen centerpieces on the global market, the Trust empowers artisans to increase their income, which is invested into conservation programs that address the specific needs of a community.

Some projects compensate herders for livestock losses and others help generative alternatives sources of income. Children directly benefit from the food, medicine, and schooling that the extra income provides.

Members of Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco in Peru. (Photo courtesy International Folk Art Market)

Members of Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco in Peru. (Photo courtesy International Folk Art Market)

Earthues, a Ballard-based natural dye company established by Michele Wipplinger, partners with Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco in Peru to preserve Peruvian textile traditions and create a larger market for Peruvian art.

Master weaver Nilda Callañaupa Álvarez showcases a textile created on a backstrap loom from handspun wool and alpaca threads, dyed with all natural materials.

In July The Burke will host an Artisan Market where members of the cooperatives will be on hand to demonstrate their craft and pieces will be available for purchase. Exhibit curator Dr. Suzanne Seriff will also be on hand to share her experience working with artisan cooperatives around the world to develop this exhibit.

The Empowering Women exhibit runs through October 27th, and the Artisan Market is July 20 & 21 from 10am-3pm.

This post has been updated since it’s original publication.

Shin Yu Pai writes about arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest. She received an MA in Museology from UW and has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She's a former acquisitions curator for the Wittliff Collections and also a peer reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums' Museum Assessment Program.

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