Yesterday Mike and I went to the Museo Blanes where the award winners in the Uruguay National Crafts Prize 2017 are now on display in an indoor/outdoor courtyard area around a lovely pool surrounded by grass, with seating. It’s been recently worked on and is only just open to the public again, and I hope it will remain roofless but I’m not sure where that’s going. Anyway it’s a perfect spot to show this work. Some of the pieces are under protective plexiglass cases, others not.
The award aims to promote creativity and innovation in the production of handicrafts at the national level; to improve the marketing channels of such objects; to promote research into the cultural roots of Uruguay and its expression in contemporary handicraft works; and to encourage and spread the rescue of trades and craft activities in general. Under the aegis of several national governmental and association organisations, the prizes totalling over US$7000 are of two categories – one-off unique pieces and production pieces that have been market tested.
In Uruguayan crafts generally I am often very aware of my different cultural background that has me perceive lots of stuff as simply clunky, heavy and dark. Unfamiliar historical references are often apparent, but even when I do know the fine details of them I still find some objects visually unappealing to me no matter what they referenced.
The first piece I came across that I really love is Noelia Martinez Montero’s bag using wet felting and other techniques, featuring a design from engravings found at archaeological sites up around Salto. I don’t know if it actually will function as a bag/cartera, but that’s what she called it.
The gaucho (equivalent to Aussie stockman, N.American cowboy) is a huge cultural element in the history and culture of this country. Like their counterparts, gauchos have taken their industry’s leather arts in particular to high standards. This next pic is of Jonathan Velasquez’ exquisite woven rawhide decorated scabbard, knife handle and riding crop, enhanced by being in several colours.
Bandoneon players, bandoneonistas, are at the heart of Rio del Plata music, especially through tango, ancient and modern. This single enthusiastic looking figure by Jose R. Vasquez Fleitas, was displayed a short distance from a bunch of really wild looking types playing cards fabricated in the same techniques – carved bodies coated with clothing made from recycled fabrics painted over, and the heads topped with dyed natural wool fleece hair.
Birds, especially elegant looking long legged ones, are popular for crafted objects; and this one with its tell-tale little feather topknot is the southern lapwing known as Tero – the national bird of Uruguay. It’s beautifully made in the right proportions from wood and various textured sheets of metal and steel, though the information did not mention if these were recycled materials as I felt they were.
Ismael Alvarez Aljas, bird figure approx 25cm.
There were other items that I found hard to relate to on cultural grounds, as I mentioned, including a bunch of figures on horseback made from shells and dried animal bones, which though they did look full of movement somehow I couldn’t envisage buying or having around on my own coffee table. A hand woven rug of dark brown wool with touches of grey was displayed as if just dumped, plopped down in a heap on top of a plinth. It should have been either carefully folded to show the edge, or draped over something – so it could be admired – it was selected into the national crafts award exhibition for heavens’ sakes. This was very disrespectful to the artist, in my opinion. And this next rant is of something that so often bothers me in this country – the information and name plates beside the exhibits. Though though nice looking small acrylic blocks, the printing was small, and many were maddeningly crooked – carelessly placed beside their exhibits. Though I did discretely straighten up some just sitting on plinth and table tops, I didn’t dare touch the plexiglass covering others. This near-enough-is-good-enough misalignment of things like door handles, light switches is sooo common in Uruguay, and drives me nuts. However don’t let my idiosyncrasies put you off – this is a nice exhibition, and can be seen though to the end of February, plus the the Lacy Duarte is still on, and there are always the permanent Figaris, Blanes and Cuneo works to be enjoyed. One of my fav places – check the museum opening times at http://blanes.montevideo.gub.uy/