VESTIGIOS

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VESTIGIOS

TRACES FROM THE PAST

Pilar Tobon, the well known Colombian Textile Art Sculpture has received an honorary invitation to expose in several educational institutions around the United States, where not only will she be exhibiting her work but she will also give several students the opportunity to work with her in some of her upcoming art pieces. The fact that her work is based upon the traditional Pre-Colombian indigenous cultures, where she incorporates unique techniques and honors such influential tribes, presents the students with a once in a lifetime opportunity to be so close to someone that is so knowledgeable about that specific culture. The evolution of Pilar's Art, proves that she continues to defend the work and cultural importance of her ancestors, as well as the life of thousands and thousands of indigenous people who still live in her place of birth, Colombia. This people work and make a living out of their skills with the look and different material they use to come up with every day articles and spectacular decorative pieces. Among the materials used we have wool, cotton, feathers, bronze, copper, as well as silver and other semi-precious metals. Pilar's attitude continues to defend Textile Art as an important form of expression, but most importantly as a relevant genre of plastic arts. She has built a network with artists from Asia, Europe, America and Africa, capable to delivering unique events that are awakening the thirst for such a beautiful form of expression. Most if the artists in these events continue to donate their art pieces, in order to built a nomad exhibition of miniature pieces that continues to travel around the world. Her work adopts technique and cultures from ALL PRECOLOMBIAN tribes, from Alaska all the way to Patagonia, adopting their elements, their techniques and their language in many of her pieces. Vestigios, is all about traces from the past, going back thousands and thousands of years in history and re-live that culture through a unique form of art. This collection has made Pilar one of the most important artists of her time, as far as Textile Art is concerned, but her most important work is unquestionably aside from the loom, and more in the strength she has fought to take Textile Art to the rest of the world.

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VESTIGIOS

EVERLASTING WORK

When standing in front of the textile sculptures handcrafted by Pilar, it is impossible not to feel the creative and expressive strength flowing from them. With each knot she creates a bridge spanning the gap between the old crafter’s traditions and the present ways to convey her message. Even though looms are still very similar to those employed by our most remote ancestors, the use of certain materials, the application of innovative techniques and the search of motives and shapes linked to these anguished times, greatly stress the fact that we are not just facing good tapestry maker and weaver, but also in the presence of a faithful interpreter of a given time and a given culture. Were her pieces to be carefully observed and related to the different years of her long career as an artist, although it is possible to single out certain phases within their creative processes, it certainly can be agreed that there really is a continuity in the search, an inner growth in the spiritual sense, an increasing gift of inner-self reaching towards a clearer definition of art together with an ever growing remarkable control of the special techniques which confer a definite personality to this kind of art. We do have to agree that universal acceptance of the so called “tapestry weaving” , into the ranks of art instead of considering it as mere craftsmanship, is a very recent movement. During the last 35 to 40 years the true artists behind this new art form have endeavoured to show that, although in certain way they may be the keepers of the craft traditions, they are also expressing their feelings as true artists, and thus, their works should by rights be considered textile sculptures. Pilar Tobón, who without a doubt can be considered to be one of the pioneers in this continent, contributing wholeheartedly and in great measure to this quest for acknowledgement of professional values, nevertheless shows, when following the line of her chronological works, how the inner mechanism of creation, her pride of expression, heartfelt concepts, and powerful inner-strengths have been freed to reach very high pinnacles of creation, beauty and meaning. To better understand this kind of development, it is necessary to return to the essence of this great sculptress, including the theoretical warping upon which she has woven her own life pattern and where her courage and the risks she has taken can be appreciated.

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VESTIGIOS

A NOBLE TRADITION

In ancient times, many traditions and religious myths compared life to a weaved piece of cloth and told about three women, the first one who spun, the second who wove and the third who cut the cloth of life. That link between weaving and existing is consistent with a very clear fact, fabric has been part of mankind since the end of the Neolithic age, according to facts ascertained from remains of linen found in archaeological excavations in Switzerland. In the natural division of tasks among men and women, while the first were in charge of hunting, fishing and war making, the latter provided for the continuity of the species, while taking care of sowing, harvesting, cooking and also attire and cloth making. So, once animal skins ceased to be enough, they began to develop the technique of manually spinning wild fibres, the first one of which happened to be linen. From that humble origin sprang all the different weaving and knitting techniques to reach the highest technological peaks we take for granted today. In China silk worms has been bred and silk has been woven since the beginning of the XXVIII Century B.C., in Egypt linen and cotton were woven, according to testimonies, since the beginning of times, and Alexander the Great, at his return from India brought cotton to Greece. In Latin America the Incas obtained very remarkable results with their cotton woven cloths, especially by their way of mixing their basic needs with artistic designs, producing woven drawings of great quality and rich colours. In Mexico, the Mayas as well as the Mixtecas reached great levels of fine craftsmanship and so did the Aztecs, who emphasized and enhanced their weaving techniques using mixed vegetable fibres to create complex and beautiful pieces ornate with metal and feathers. There is absolutely no doubt at all of the role played by the women of all races in this development along thousands of years. They undertook with the greatest of dedications and a strong creativity the hard task of spinning and weaving the fabrics of our lives. The XVIII Century brought among other things the invention of big automatic machines which indeed took the craft into the realms of the manufacturing industry while keeping the role of designing and the creation of complex and beautiful woven cloths in the hands of artists which, in their turn, carried them to the stage of weaving those beautiful big tapestries so typical of the middle and modern ages and the carpets that brought shape to the Persian and other Asia Minor civilizations. During many years artistic weaving was confined to the “Utilitarian Arts” category, and as such, was considered to be beneath the so called Fine Arts. It is one of those crafts which have been submerged in the “Popular or Folks Art” category, but the worldwide combined efforts of those who are dedicated to the creation of textile designs have been gaining terrain, enabling this form of art to occupy a better position within the Artistic Community . This kind of art, which really can hold its own place besides those consecrated by the old traditions, is almost a closed circle owned solely by women. Of the thousands of dedicated artists, according to different sources of figures and surveys, more than 90% are women, proud of their creation and willing to defend their place within the artistic arena. Precisely, at the epicentre of this worldwide movement, a woman already being recognized by the quality of her own work and touched by international fame can be found: Pilar Tobón, the artist whose best endeavours and remarkable creativity have been dedicated, to elevate the artistic level of textile art, by linking it with the oldest and most noble traditions of the pre-Columbian art of her country of birth, Colombia.

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VESTIGIOS

A THESIS A MANIFEST

The thesis and grade paper that under the title of “Woven Tapestry in Copper and Bronze, based on the jewellery works and crafts of the pre-Columbian cultures”, was presented by Pilar Tobón and which is based in the creation of works of art from the subjects and techniques of the aboriginal cultures of Colombia, as they are known today from the works gathered in the Museum of Gold and also from several pieces found in different sites, shows the depth of her knowledge and commitment to the historical roots and to the true core of her country. As you delve deeply into her magnificent and well documented exposition, it becomes quite clear that the author is in possession of a vast and thorough knowledge of all the characteristics and details related to the diverse native cultures that are part of the Colombian territory. She describes in minute detail the works of different cultures such as Muisca, Tairona, Sinú, Quimbaya, Calima, Nariño, Tumaco, Tierradentro and San Agustín. In the introduction to her academic work, when describing the invaluable treasures now in the safe-keeping of Museum of Gold, she affirms that “it is been found out that each one of the different pre-Columbian culture groups did representations of their own gods in ceramics and metal, to worship the moon, the sun, the stars and the water, thus expressing that since the very beginning, mankind has had the need to believe in a supreme and mighty being : God” She goes then to say that this kind of work “weighted heavily on my mind and therefore, also in my decision of studying textile design, since Colombia both as a country and as its people shows a very high level of industrious and immensely high skilled craftsmanship and that is why this Grade Paper is meant to be an homage to our Colombian Ancestors who have bequeathed us the wealth of their culture, the beauty of their creativity, the delicacy of their crafted pieces and their endless patience shown in extraordinary and marvellous work” Then, Pilar Tobón goes on to explore the different cultural aspects, spanning more than 2000 years, from the birth of the Sinú culture, in the neighbourhood of the Colombian coast on the Caribbean Sea around the 800 B.C. to the end of the mature stage of the Muisca culture, in the beginning of the XVII Century, she then goes on to analyse the different techniques of jewel craftsmanship, the themes and shapes that define each of the cultures, presenting and explaining some of the most notable examples of their different kind of work. As results of an extensive investigation, the artist presents a thorough description of the different techniques, an explanation of their processes for choosing the different kinds of materials, weaving techniques and patterns, which combine the typical textile operations with native traditions enhanced by the use of pieces of metal which both keep and reflect their elder’s traditions.

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VESTIGIOS

FREQUENT PRESENCE

The name of Pilar Tobón appears frequently in collective and individual catalogues of shows and exhibitions in different countries and her works have merited comments and good reviews in high level art media and publications. These are not mere coincidences, but well deserved rewards to her own quality work and her generous contribution and great dedication to the art. Since even when not showing her own works, Pilar spends long hours away from her beloved weaving frames, just to be in touch with textile artists all over the world. Although it would be neat to quote all the different critical opinions, it is relevant and convenient to include some of the most special ones, in order to establish a right framework in which to place the image of this great continental artist “At the Nahím Isaías museum ..…the exhibition of Pilar Tobón (textile sculptress) in which she shows together with a high degree of dexterity and sensibility, a remarkable capacity to express herself through her pieces. Different fibres and yarns, woven together with metals, become ‘blocks’ which cannot help but seduce just by their texture. ..She can do wonders with whichever raw material she may choose from. “She does not only amaze her public but carries us straight to today’s kind of tapestry. .. consistent as a whole piece, with the kind of work that she, Pilar Tobón, has set her own aims, and within which, we repeat, she exquisitely moves with real inner knowledge of cause and a spirit in which continual search becomes one of her main virtues” Zalacaín in Meridiano (Guayaquil) 25 September, 1995 “The textile sculptures of the Colombian born Pilar Tobón are fathomless pieces of esoteric meanings, permeated with so much expressive richness, which cannot help but take us back to the old realms of suggested magic and ancestral symbolic lore” “Their encircling and flowing planes express incredible hues and chromatic combinations that do not cease to amaze by their implied meaning as well as for their proposal which together with the unexpected use of metallic pieces are redolent of old symbolical rituals of great meaning and strength” El Universo - (Guayaquil) 2 October , 1995 “Her hands have begun to dance. It is at this precise moment when her mind and body move away from reality to be submerged in the classical notes of their own music and begin to weave their art. It is the moment to relax and find spiritual peace; to create, in communion with her inner woman” “The work of Pilar Tobón has traveled through the entire world. Its aim, to show the bequest of the manual crafts and skills left to us by our forefathers as well as how creativity can surge from the agile movements of skilled fingers and hands” Faviana Patiño, People Magazine published by – El Heraldo - of Barranquilla, 25 April, 1998 “It is not every day that we can be lucky enough to get the chance to see work by such an artist as Pllar Tobón, who among other things, has the gift to reproduce the ancient knowledge of a past that has been learnt by her not only because of her inheritance but also by her long journeys dedicated to studies and investigations... Pilar has the skills needed to take us back to facing images where “chamans” and other beings of light dwell... She carries us through hidden terrains so full of symbols and figures that we found ourselves being a part of it all ... figures that can be touched and incorporated to your everyday life, without losing their own majestic quality which is almost usually present in all the great pieces of art” María Cristina Alarcón - Viernes de Galerias. Latin-American Image, Miami, December, 1995. “Pilar considers textile art to be her mission. She also has a dream, that of promoting textile artists. True to her deep roots in a country that has both an extraordinary pre-Columbian tradition together with an important contribution to the textile contemporary art, Pilar Tobón chose to take a stand against the vanishing support that textile art is being given today in Latin America by starting a memorable international event: ‘Women in Textile Art 2000” Yosi Anaya, Textile Forum, Swiss, 2 June, 2000 “The creative task of Pilar Tobón springs from deep within herself and is nourished by the clamours of her blood. Armed only with a pile of yarns, fragments of metals, laces, stones, old tassels, feathers, smith crafted jewellery, pre-Columbian pieces and other different elements without any kind of aesthetic link among them, and the quality of her enormous creative talent, she manages to create her textile sculptures which never fail to reach the beholder by their enormous strength and artistic quality” Violeta de Arrantia, Arts Director of the Nahím Isaías Museum, Guayaquil, Ecuador

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VESTIGIOS

THE SENSE OF COLOMBIAN TRADITIONS

Any analysis that may be done of Pilar Tobón’s work, based on her most outstanding pieces, should also take into account the author’s expressed will to put emphasis on her national roots. The search for her forefathers, their designs and techniques, the use of materials that, for different reasons, bring back those textures and colours preferred by the ancient dwellers of her native Colombia, must never be understood as a mere coincidence nor as a minor whim, but should be considered the result of her careful, and deliberate choice. When talking to this extraordinary woman, you cannot but notice how her face lights up and her expression deepens, when she explains her yearning to explore and to better know her roots, also perhaps as way of expressing her strong willingness to be linked to the land she claims as her own. She also owns up that, even though she has closely studied and worked with several other cultures, none of them have filled her heart and intellect to the extent of allowing them to share this passion for what she acknowledges as truly hers. Her great respect for the roots of her culture, traditions, and everything that is ageless and remains the same, constitutes the solid rock upon which her life and work are based, even in the midst of a geography and a history which have been deeply shaken recently by fratricide fights and irrational violence, is her own way to bravely confront the challenge of being a true Colombian today. The work of Pilar Tobón, when perceived as a whole and located within its historical environment, leaves no room for doubt about its having been created to send a sort of subliminal message specially directed at her countrymen, where a spiritual promise of unity is offered together with some kind of survival strategy. Although owning up that she does not takes sides in the strict political sense of the words, there is not doubt that her choice is for life and order, and for defending those values and assets that are the common property of the people of Colombia.

As she usually likes to explain, her first steps were marked by the use of simpler techniques and a craft-oriented vision, which have now developed through a very complex spiral-shaped growing process, which she now understand was based on an exhaustive investigation delving deeply and relentlessly into the evolution of a thoroughly depurated technology. Starting from a totally new concept of the real meaning of native art, employing different craft techniques, when, during her studies in Spain and France she reached the stages of both improved technical processes and the subjects and styles of those countries, her own work underwent a big change of direction and meaning. According to her new concept, what was before reverently considered as “aboriginal” , moves on to reach a new phase which Pilar herself, calls “baroque”, and in where, a proliferation of knots can be observed, perhaps as if her meaning had been to tie together the points of a cultural thread, which might somehow help to span a deep ravine of techniques and information. This phase has a great meaning in her self- imposed quest for inner artistic growth and maturity. However, this knot-tying phase clearly depicting the building of a bridge over which previously was and what it is meant to become, sets Pilar more strongly in the path of her national roots, reinforcing her commitment to produce fuller, more elaborated, richer, more detailed pieces of art. Towards the end of this period, she finds herself being the creator of a new style entirely her own which synthetizes all the different paths and art trends which she has travelled while pursuing her inner artistic calls and where she boldly starts mixing metals under different forms, not only including small metal pre-Columbian “figurines” but also the weaving of metal threads and flat metallic peaces, by means of synchronized techniques, which, although innovative, adhere and keep those most supreme values of the native cultures.

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VESTIGIOS

FROM THE UTILITARIAN TO THE ARTISTIC

Upon referring to the pieces that are part of the whole work, she adds: “The work, in general, does not make up a pre-Columbian figure as the ones that are already known, but upon observing the sequence of these, you can grasp a special effect or a distinct sensation, while appreciating to the fullest extent, the beauty and worth of the jewellery skills of those who were our ancestors, that even today is the benchmark of a creative and industrious people ” The author goes on to say that, “within today’s textile concept, the jewellery techniques of our ancestors have been employed to create artistic pieces integrating non-traditional materials such as copper and bronze to the more traditional weaving materials. So far, jewellery and metals had only been part of the weaving processes as final touches and/or decorative elements” Due to both, the strength of the research work and the neatness of its concepts, this thesis should be considered an essential element in the analysis of the work and trends of a true artist, who has surfaced, as in the case of Pilar Tobón, in the front line of a worldwide movement which is retrieving to the arts realm a heritage which had long since been stolen. As every creative artist, Pilar Tobón needs a peaceful and quiet environment which allows her the right environment to carry out the delicate process of getting together thoughts, actions and the different sort of materials which will later be translated to a new conception of art. The process of conceiving and creating a new piece can take a very long time, during which, certain objects or different kinds of materials, which might have been saved and treasured for years, because of a whim or at a certain moment they moved her, or led her heart or imagination in a certain direction, finally get to be where they always were meant to, which is being part of a piece of work which most surely is not remotely similar to that first inspiring idea. To better explain her point of view, she talks about one of her most recent pieces, titled “The spirals of the life” where she employed pieces of materials she has kept in her atelier since 1997, after bringing them over from Colombia. All that time she had the basic idea for this piece gently simmering at the back of her mind, until one day she knew exactly how she wanted to create and develop this piece. It was the same kind of a process of those undergone by larvae which after going through all the pertinent stages and transformations, at precisely the right moment they come out as beautiful butterflies, to dazzle the world who had never seen them while in their embryonic phase, with the sheer brilliance of their colours and their flight. Sticks, stones, different kinds of things usually picked at the beach, are carefully hoarded and kept waiting for the truthful moment of creation. To better reach the most needed peace of mind, she has to be immersed in the calm atmosphere which can only be found at home, overlooking the fields of the Doral Golf Club. She has tried in three different occasions to have her ateliers moved out of the home-ground, but has come to realize that she doesn’t seem to get the same level of concentration and peaceful surroundings required by her art.