"Through this venture we seek to recuperate the value of handcrafts, and I love the fact that we create decorative items with a functional purpose."
"I'm originally from the state of Jalisco but I work with a community of Zapotec artisans in the central valley of Oaxaca who specialize in the crafting of alebrije sculptures with USBs.
"The idea began in February of 2015, when I first met one of the alebrije artisans – someone had already told me about inserting USBs into different sculptures, but I had never seen it done with small scale alebrije figurines.
"So that’s were I saw the opportunity to combine both ideas: promote handcrafted work and present the USBs in a novel form. I borrowed tools used for making jewelry from a friend to be able to make the perforations and start testing my idea – I still have those first pieces, they showed me that my idea could work.
"I went to Oaxaca to work with a renowned alebrije artisan, but due to the large orders he continuously received for his own work we couldn’t make it work. He kept leaving me to last, which starting affecting my own little venture.
"I contacted Oaxaca’s Artisanal Institute (IAO is Spanish), and they referred me to a small community – no more than 200 inhabitants! They specialize in alebrijes, but they only carve the wood figurines by hand and sell them like that, for other artisans to paint and promote as desired.
"They are a tiny community far from Oaxaca’s main center – they are the last to be contacted and the ones who earn less.
"They hand-carve the alebrijes of copal wood, which in itself is of great symbolic meaning: pre-Hispanic cultures used the resin to make the incense for their ceremonies – a custom that is still used today. The larger piece of copal wood are used for the larger sculptures, and the remnants or smaller pieces are used for our figurines. The tiniest pieces, the ones that are useless for sculpting, are used for incense – as you see, every bit of the copal tree is used, and nothing is wasted.
"Pablo Ríos represents this Zapotec community in the IAO, and I work with him and his family. But when I need to place a larger order, he invites other artisans from the community to work together and get the order fulfilled.
"Pablo and his brothers are in charge of perforating the figurines for the USB – they are the most experienced ones. The rest of the family carve and paint by hand each piece. I’m in charge of assembling the pieces and USBs'.
"The trickiest part of creating your own venture is making it sustainable and at first it was very difficult. But thanks to my family’s support I achieved it and today my venture is self-sustained and of great benefit for the Zapotec artisans I work with.
"The orders I place with them represent a considerable part of their economy because given their location, other artisan communities closer to the capital city ended up with all the work. Now they are in charge of crafting, and the designs are entirely their own.
"There is no cel phone signal in this community, and there is only one landline community telephone, so when I need to speak to Pablo the person in charge of the phone booth must call him on a loudspeaker. Then I call again when I think he's arrived at the booth.
"In this group of artisans, the men hand-carve and the women paint the figurines. We work on our own designs yet we also work on designs provided by customers.
"Through this venture we seek to recuperate the value of handcrafts, and I love the fact that we create decorative items with a functional purpose. Not only do we have an alebrije as a decorative figurine, but it also plays a part in our modern way of life. Most importantly though, the handcrafts most always reflect the artisans’ creativity.
"My aim for this venture is to continue growing hand-in-hand with the artisans. I hope to place our work as a Mexican handcrafted product with a great social impact. I am so proud to work with this community and grow together."