When Kythzia Barrera holds a handmade ceramic comal in her hands, she knows she’s cradling more than a beautiful cooking vessel. She is holding the history, culture and economic lifeblood of more than 70 villages throughout Oaxaca, Mexico.
As founder of Innovando la Tradition and CEO of Colectivo 1050°, Barrera has devoted her career to fostering development of the pottery communities in Oaxaca. It’s a pursuit she’s trained her entire life for. Barrera studied industrial design at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City before earning a masters degree in the Netherlands. She then traveled to Kenya, Japan, Finland and Brazil to study the impact of handmade crafts in modern societies.
Barrera founded Colectivo 1050° as an artisan-owned cooperative in Oaxaca, where pottery has been a way of life since, well, forever. Together, with her co-founder, Diego Mier y Teran, she identified scores of villages with indigenous potters, each with their own distinct style and wealth of knowledge. And while all of them are rooted in traditional culture, they have adapted to modern life and collaborative design methods. Or, at least, they’ve tried their best to. Due to globalization and industrialization, the traditions of clay-making processes are gradually being forgotten. They’re no longer guaranteed to be passed down to the next generation and, consequently, they’re at risk of disappearing.
Barrera is working to reverse this trend.
For the majority of makers in Oaxaca, pottery is both a cultural and economical necessity. Each village boasts its own distinct style, meaning that 70 different ways of making pottery are being practiced. However, the encroachment of manufactured products made from plastic and aluminum (and, consequently, much cheaper and disposable) has made it harder than ever. Projections are that upwards of 40 percent of the 70 villages will stop producing ceramics within our lifetimes. This forecast, coupled with the migration of locals to more affluent and industrialized regions is threatening to wipe out a 4,000-year-old tradition.
This is one of the many reasons why Kythzia’s and Colectivo’s work is so important. By raising awareness, cultivating interest and demand, and offering workshops to younger generations, the traditions and cultures of the past can continue to move forward into the future. The talents of the artisans and the art of the handmade pottery that they so skillfully create will not be lost but will survive for centuries to come.
By blending traditional knowledge and skill with contemporary design, they create beautiful, timeless and essential pieces that are handmade using ancient methods, thus combining history with innovation.