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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Juan Cortés finds beauty and mindfulness through his artful weaving

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Verónica Garibay Saldaña is a Mexican columnist, communications major, and poetry enthusiast. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Before the pandemic turned us all into handicrafts experts, Juan Cortés had his first experience with the world of textiles. 

“A friend of mine was making macramé,” he recalls. “I contacted her looking to buy a piece and ended up taking a workshop on the craft.”

Juan picked up the principles of macramé quickly. Within two months, he had replicated each knot thousands of times and created complex pieces, which differ greatly from traditional macramé. 

An ongoing piece in Juan’s workshop, right behind paletería “Las Rellenas de la 60.” Photo: Verónica Garibay

Today, almost two years later, Juan is fully dedicated to Soskil, a contemporary textile art project.

“It surprised me how much I connected with this practice,” Juan recounts. “I didn’t imagine undertaking it as a business. It was what everyone was doing. But I knew I wanted to create something with my hands, with these materials.”

A finished wall piece hangs in Juan’s studio. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Juan creates experimental pieces with natural materials, specifically with raw, colored yarns and sisal fibers. Although he learned the craft a few years ago, he began to experiment more intensely during the pandemic.

“I had the yearning of making a giant piece, and so I bought a lot of raw material to have on hand. The idea was to create something difficult to occupy me for an indefinite period of time. It took me about three months to make, and I enjoyed every second of it. It was a very therapeutic process.”

Texture detail and one of Juan’s pieces for his collection “En Crudo.” Right photo: The artist Juan Cortés. Photo: Courtesy of Juan Cortés

Today, that piece is exhibited in a gallery in Mérida, with a collection under the name En Crudo.

“I wanted to weave everything the same raw color, and not rely on flashy tones to make it interesting. Instead, I decided to play with textures. I worked on it every day, and by the time it was finished the piece measured over two meters.”

His pieces are decorative, but also tell part of his story, and invite the viewer to discover it. 

A lamp titled “Luz Marina” (Marine Light), is named after Juan’s mother. The patterns created through the knots resemble the reflection of a lighthouse in the sea. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Juan was surprised by the enjoyment he found in the meditative practice of weaving, a far cry from his hectic lifestyle before the pandemic. His trajectory outside of the textile world was a strong influence in the development of his work, and the success of the brand.

“I was a photographer for many years. Photography allowed me to travel around the world, and eventually brought me here to Yucatán, far from my native Chile. That visual training gave me a sensibility for art that I wouldn’t have developed otherwise,” says Juan. 

Textile pieces decorating a bottle
Juan’s pieces serve a practical and decorative purpose, as is the case with the hand-knitted details of these bottles. Photo: Verónica Garibay

Though he already had an artistic sensibility, the world of artisanal creations was very different from what he was used to. 

“As a photographer, I could reflect emotions very easily. But this is something tangible. I didn’t know this craft, but I was eager to learn. I just knew I wanted something different.”

The name of the project is the same as the Mayan name for the henequén or sisal fiber. Juan photographed the process of working with this material, and from there, decided to incorporate it into his craft.

Juan works on his rooftop, on a new piece. Photo: Courtesy Juan Cortés

“Soskil has not been used much since the invention of synthetic fibers. But I really appreciate its organic look and feel and enjoy creating with simple materials. Nothing I use is fancy or luxurious. They are disposable materials, but when you create with intention, the simple becomes extraordinary.”

Juan’s curiosity is what has led him down different paths in the creative world. He doesn’t know how long his textile stage will last, nor what stage will follow, but he is sure that his curiosity will continue to fuel his future projects.

“I’m obsessive in everything I do. If I get involved in something, I’ll explore it in every possible way, and I’ll try my best to excel. I want to keep learning, discovering myself in the different stages of my life.”

Juan Cortés sits in front of an ongoing piece. Photo: Verónica Garibay

The Soskil exhibition can be permanently found in Galería Caracol Púrpura Mérida, Calle 60 between 53 and 55, Centro. The gallery is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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