Commercialization of Indigenous Handicrafts
in Mexico as Empowerment
Tobias Drilling1 and Matthias Drilling2*
1Visiting student at Centro Universitario de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades (CUCSH), Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico
2Head of Institute of Social Planning, University of Applied Sciences Basel, Switzerland
Submission: August 09, 2019; Published: August 20, 2019
*Corresponding author:Tobias Drilling, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Berne, Switzerland.
How to cite this article:Tobias Drilling, Matthias Drilling. Commercialization of Indigenous Handicrafts in Mexico as Empowerment.
Glob J Arch & Anthropol. 2019; 10(4): 555791. DOI: 10.19080/GJAA.2019.10.555791
The production of art and handicrafts in rural areas has been appreciated in literature in different directions: as a contribution to sustainable rural development , as a prevention of rural-urban migration , as an improvement of rural living conditions by balancing the distribution of incomes , or as a tools for diversification of the rural economy . Only a few studies do not concentrate on the economic dimension and place people themselves at the centre [5,6]. In order to provide new impetus to this discussion, we argue in that opinion paper that the commercialization of handicraft can be interpreted as empowerment in that term that creating handicraft enables the community to deal constructively with the systematic disadvantages they experience through the government
The term ‘Professional indigenous’ describes people of a certain community, who sustain their income through the production - according to ancestral knowledge - of cultural goods . In the case of the indigenous community Wixárika, those handicrafts are bright and colorful, figurative, exotic and aesthetically pleasing to the broad public. For the Wixárikas, the governmental plan ‘Huicot’, a strategy for the commercialization of the handicrafts in the 1970s, is of a great importance . Handicrafts are hereby declared as ‘patrimonio local’, which translates to local heritage . This declaration is followed by a sudden interest in Wixárikas by the Mexican government since the financial benefit is getting recognized. However, with the ‘Huicot’ many new possibilities for indigenous people opened up . One of those possibilities is the migration to urban areas due to working opportunities and new live-style possibilities for urban indigenous people in Mexico in which the stereotypical image of rural indigenous people dressed in traditional clothes and working as farmers is confronted . Migration, in this context, means a way of breaking a possible circle of poverty, repression in communities, a possible access to education, and a broader non-indigenous society. Nevertheless, many indigenous people are struggling to find new ways of identifying themselves in urban areas and are still confronted with inequalities .
The appearance of cultural industry in which the production of cultural goods and services is tied to industrial criteria and strategies , creates a new sector within the Mexican economy. Hence, tourists and the interest of the Mexican society is attracted by this sector. Still, there are critical aspects to this cultural industry, which include an asymmetry due to the perception of producers as vulnerable people who are unable to auto present themselves . This thematic can currently be witnessed in the five states of Durango, Jalisco, Nayarit, San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas by the political land grabbing of Wixárika symbolic territory . Since those places are rich of natural resources, many mines are opened in the region and nature is being destroyed due to tourism . The Mexican government is on the one side celebrating its multiculturalism and on the other side exploiting rural indigenous communities .
Those processes represent a disconnection of arts and the artist whereby the cultural good is being supported as an aesthetically pleasing object while artists are being left aside and exploited . Expressions such as ‘artista chamane’  reflect this common consideration of indigenous artists as ‘primitive’. Opportunities to obtain more visibility are given to those artists and an indigenous population by means of indigenous art, social networks, and international art exhibitions. This iconographic
representation opens the possibility to an informative exchange
of inequalities and builds a platform for indigenous political
Culture can, in an anthropological way, be conceptualized
as fluent, a ‘way of living’ instead of a determined and a static
complex . It is certain that nowadays handicrafts and
Wixárika art – for touristic purposes - are not produced in the
way that religious and cultural objects were created for their
proper use such as religious offerings . It is about serving
the needs of the market which often means a so called ‘feeding
the search for the other’, reinforcing a stereotypical picture
of ‚a homogenous indigenous community’ and disconnecting
the tourists of their own known world and thus creating an
‘antioccident’ . However, this is not a new phenomenon;
Wixárika art has been influenced for a long time by external
factors and their designs changed already due to the invasion of
Europeans in Mexico.
In its earliest state, the Wixárika religion was more abstract
than figurative and decorations were not of importance
. This leads to the conclusion that if it were not for the
commercialization, the actual objects would not exist . This
reflects the importance of a monetary incentive to the production
of cultural goods, which not only changes cultural significances
but also maintains different cultural aspects. This maintaining
of an indigenous culture must be seen in consideration of power
relations and a partly ‘imposed development’ 
There exists a variety of creative individual strategies to
deal with this external imposing of values, one of those being
the idea of selling tourists a ‘versión acultural’ which translates
to an ‘acculturated version’ of the cultural object ; in this way
two living worlds can be separated. One world ensuring the
producers an economical surviving and another world of the
personal believe system and culture. Furthermore handicrafts
and art enable a process of informing interested people about
elements of ones own indigenous culture. This informing
processes resolute in more visibility among a broad public that
may lead to more activist engagement dedicated to indigenous
communities living conditions.
Those considerations of a very complex subject lead to
three main conclusions, which allow seeing the processes of
monetization, commercialization and de-contextualization as
a possible empowerment of indigenous communities. Due to
new opportunities of income - built on already communityintern
existing knowledge - possibilities of breaking a circle
of poverty are given, and with that access to many goods, are
enabled. Migration and the international exchange of knowledge
allow indigenous communities to raise their voices. This new
platform should and must be used more for the addressing of
political claims and claims of fundamental human rights. Lastly,
the discussed aspects build an opportunity for a maintaining of
indigenous cultural elements and reliving ancestral roots in new
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