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Marilyn Anderson is an artist, photographer and author. She originally comes from Oregon and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She then spent time in Mexico and Guatemala, subsequently receiving her BFA from Rochester Institute of Technology and MFA from the Visual Studies Workshop/ SUNY Buffalo. For 16 years, she worked as a visual arts mentor, at SUNY Empire State College, in Rochester, NY.

Since the 70s, she has produced publications, including Backstrap Weaving, (co-authored with Barbara Tabor), Guatemalan Textiles Today and Granddaughters of Corn (co-authored with Jonathan Garlock.) Over the years, she has received a number of grants and fellowships and has had many exhibits of her photographs. At this time, she continues her photography, produces block prints, paintings and publications as she works on further projects about Maya arts traditions. She also co-directs the Pro Arte Maya education project for children in Guatemala.

The Maya, Their Arts and Crafts and My Work
My first experience with the Mayan people began at 22, when I lived in Chiapas, Mexico. Maya people and their culture were to became one of the most profound of all influences on my life and work. They taught me about how much we have to learn from indigenous ways of life, and in turn to reevaluate my own. In the sixties and seventies, then with two children, I spent several years in a Mayan town in Guatemala. I learned about the different traditional arts and crafts while concentrating on womens’ backstrap weaving. As a trained painter beginning to weave, I found not only that it required different skills and sensibilities, but that profound differences were involved in how the art of weaving was learned, used, and shared as part of a tradition. I saw how my individualistic path as a North American artist contrasted greatly with the communal spirit embodied in the work of Maya weavers.

I learn about the special relationship between art and life as it happens in an indigenous culture, as among the Maya the art of the weavers is shared broadly. Day in and day out the beauty and significance of weaving, worn as traditional dress, continuously affects the weaver/wearer as well as those surrounding them.The colors and designs signify the wearer’s identity and place of origin, as well as having symbolic and religious meaning that connects them to thousands of years of tradition. Yet even in the 60s and 70s, I could see how outside forces had begun to change Mayan weaving, and how some women no longer wove mainly for themselves and their families, but out of economic necessity for sale for export and to tourists. Thus, as I studied the Mayas’ arts and crafts, I also began to understand the political and economic issues of Guatemalan society-- where extreme inequality in the distribution of wealth rules.

In the seventies, my love of Maya textiles and other craft traditions led me to leave behind my painting and drawing. During that time, I returned to Guatemala periodically and I concentrated on photography and research while I taught part-time to support myself. With the encouragement and support of my husband Jon Garlock, I produced two books about the textile traditions of the Maya: Backstrap Weaving (with Barbara Tabor) (1975) and Guatemala Textiles Today, (1978)

In the eighties, a shockingly brutal war erupted in Guatemala. Jon and I joined with many others to do “solidarity work” by helping to obtain humanitarian aid and educating people about the rampant human rights abuses taking place in Guatemala. We mounted and traveled an exhibit, Granddaughters of Corn, as well as producing a book of the same name. This book included my photographs of Mayan women and the writing and editing of Jon, which detailed the effect of the war and repression on the lives of Maya women in Guatemala. The exhibit still travels to different parts of the country through the auspices of the Unitarian Church, (UUSC) Boston MA. Now, here in the US and in Guatemala, I want to pull together the strands of my skills, knowledge, and experiences to continue to use my art and photography to educate and build community.

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Marilyn Anderson ~ Pro Art Maya
34 Nicholson Street Rochester, NY 14620 | Phone: 585.271.4374

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