Inspired by the tenacious creativity of traditional artists, I have a developed a keen interest in the continuity of culture through aesthetic practices—both in the visual and performance arts. My professional involvement in community arts has included working with traditional artists, service on advisory councils and boards of directors of non-profit organizations, and involvement in projects that promote and preserve traditional arts..
I believe a definition of traditional is complex and contested. Participants in contemporary society often long nostalgically for “authentic” experience—slow, pure, and unsullied by modernity. Mayan women in the highland villages of Guatemala understand tradition and innovation in a different way; they favor wearing traditional huipiles embroidered fashionably with brightly colored threads, beads, and sequins. Tourists on the other hand—in search of the “genuine” and timeworn—purchase these very same huipiles dipped in tea to simulate the aging process and the soft tones of natural dyes.
Traditional artists do not tea-dip their work. Often, they resist the antiquated notion of tradition as pure and static, and propose an alternative definition of tradition as utterly contemporary—messy with modern interference, contaminated by cultural cross-pollination, gasping mouthfuls of congested urban air—and yet bursting with age-old meaning. Traditionalists do not preserve by holding rigid. They hold fast; they embrace the fast paced and the new fangled in service of the time honored. Like all artists, they work with a jumble of crisscrossing cultural references, historical citations, and experimental interventions. Innovation becomes tradition, and tradition innovates.