The Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus is currently showcasing a special exhibit of the work of women in ten artisan cooperatives around the world. For years, such cooperatives have been a way for women not only to express their skills and earn money but also to better their position in their families and communities; hence the exhibit's name: Empowering Women. The products they make are not only beautiful but keep alive various traditional arts and skills, while sometimes adapting these to reflect modern tastes. Often, these cooperatives have teamed up with Fair Trade stores and distributors to find receptive outlets for their creations. Being linked to Fair Trade also ensures a fair price for their work.
The cooperatives in this exhibit include groups from Swaziland, South Africa, Nepal, Laos, India, Peru, Bolivia, Morocco, Kenya, and Rwanda. Each group is represented by a few examples of their work, along with colorful photos and text about the cooperative. The texts focus on specific obstacles for women in their community and ways in which their participation in the cooperative has aided them. In Nepal, a man threatened to cut off his wife's legs if she joined the cooperative, but he has since come to appreciate her work there. The name of the Swaziland cooperative, Phez'kwemkhono, is a Swazi call from woman to woman to say "We are the rock that doesn't collect dust, that shouldn't collect dust; keep moving."
Weaving features often in the displays, from exquisite fabrics to intricately constructed baskets. After a basket appeared in a Macy's window, it sparked a flurry of sales.
One of the prime movers behind the exhibit is the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But the Burke has added a section documenting a number of Washington women who have had a hand in such cooperatives, establishing them or distributing their wares.
The exhibit runs through October 27. For information on the Burke Museum, hours, and directions, check http://www.burkemuseum.org/exhibits