Accepted paper:

The huipil metaphor: authenticity as a tool in the international artisan craft market in Chiapas


Erendira Quintana Morales (University of Bristol)

Paper short abstract:

When a culturally identified object becomes a trade commodity in the tourism industry, authenticity serves as a sales pitch. The huipil, a Maya garment, exemplifies the malleability of authenticity, as participants in the trade view and transform the huipil in different ways.

Paper long abstract:

In the Mexican city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, the indigenous garment known as huipil is valued as an object of cultural identity and as a trade commodity. This paper explores the relationship between consumers, intermediaries and producers of culturally identified artisan products as an avenue for studying notions of authenticity. My analysis of the huipil shows that consumers do not recognize the role of their interaction with artisans in defining the authenticity of an artisan craft. Foreigners who buy huipils and other artisan crafts value these items because they represent a cultural "other" that they perceive as separate and unchanging. This perspective is based on incorrectly understood ideas about the history of Maya communities in Mexico and masks the ways that artisans participate in the trade. My work seeks to open up spaces to acknowledge the contributions of participating artisans by incorporating their perspectives on the trade. Changes in huipil design demonstrate that contemporary Maya cultures are continuously changing through the social interactions of its members and the exercise of creativity in the crafts that represent them.

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Appropriating authenticity: anthropological and archaeological enquiries on a shared theme