Meet the Artisan: Urbano Perez
Monday, June 30, 2014
Urbano Perez was born in a small village in the mountainous region of Ayacucho in the center of Peru in the 70’s. It is pronounced Ayacuchu in Quechua, the native language of the indigenous people that the majority of the population grew up learning (and many still speak). Ayacucho is famous for its 33 churches, which represent one for each year of Jesus' life, the beautiful crafts of the region and it’s striking festivals (Semana Santa, or Easter Week is considered to be a highlight on any South American circuit) and, unfortunately, the poverty in the communities as much of the population is subsidy farmers. At the age of 13 Urbano was forced to move to the capital city of Huamanga due to economic hardships that had befallen his family. The second of 8 siblings, he and his oldest brother moved in with their grandmother who was extremely strict and encouraged the brothers to work in order to contribute to her household in addition to sending money home to his mother.
Urbano and his brother slowly began to integrate into the community, one that was filled with weavers, and having no skills to work, the boys would gather the sheeps wool and organize it for the weavers, gradually learning small details of the artisans craft. Being older, his brother was able to learn the pedal operating system of the looms, yet Urbano was unable to reach the peddles due to his height.
Eventually, Urbano did reach the pedals and began to slowly learn the intricate art of weaving: weft and warp, geometry and color. Abruptly when he was 15, the period of the Shining Path began, a terrorist movement rooted in Maoist philosophy that employed guerilla warfare tactics and targeted the institutions of Peru through violent attacks. He remembers this period as a time of confusion and fear: “They (the Shining Path) would come to the houses of the neighborhood and force us to feed them, leaving us with nothing. There was violence on the street every day and we were confused.”
At 18, Urbano was forced into the military, serving for 2 years to weed out the terrorists, often questioning his own neighbors in the struggle to uncover the identity of the insurgents. He lost his skill for weaving during this time, eventually farming with his father and making meager wages in producing coffee. When his term was completed, Urbano did not have a skill to enter into the workplace because, unlike his brother, he had not completed his education. He travelled to Lima, where another brother had moved, in search of work. In the busy, wild capital Urbano shares, “I was completely unprepared and overwhelmed.”
Compared to the tranquil streets of Huamanga, the shock and loneliness of a large urban center was unprecedented. After one month of living in a shared, one-bedroom apartment, Urbano was on the brink of returning to the countryside when a cousin mentioned that there was a small neighborhood on the outskirts of Lima where several of his neighbors had congregated and begun to commercialize the weaving and other arts of their region. Frustrated, he exclaimed, “why have you not told me sooner!” and quickly relocated to the barrio de artesanos in Lurin, where he still lives.
Over time, he found work with other artisans in the community, honing his craft as a weaver. Now, Urbano is the residing President of the Apu Hurin association in addition to his own business, which he is building from the ground up. He and his partners dye all of their own yarn, which they buy raw from the farming communities in Ayacucho and then, using the various flowers and plants native to their lands, tenir in a day long process extracting vibrant, stunning colors.
Urbano is now working with one of our private label clients in developing woven rugs for the home as well as weavings that the emiLime design team is using in the Spring/Summer 2015 Collection of bags, launching in August.
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