Paola Tzep Aju represents a new generation of Maya women born in traditional culture but embracing their roles in a globalized community. Paola grew up weaving traditional ceremonial garments and utilitarian fabrics in her rural Highland village of Xeabaj Ixtehuacan.
Paola is the weaving master in the Pixan social enterprise that connects rural indigenous women with economic opportunity through networking talented artisans with international designers seeking high-quality artisanal fabrics. Paola also represents Western Highland weavers in the national effort to organize for protection for Indigenous designs and intellectual property rights.
At the time of the Spanish conquest, the invaders burnt the Maya text and severely punished outward displays of religious or cultural knowledge. In a brilliant form of social resistance, the culture embedded into their textiles the knowledge of their ancestors to be transmitted down for generations through textiles that were worn in front of the eyes of their oppressors.
Today, the culture faces new threats from superhighways, pop culture, fast fashion and modes of production that challenge traditional lifestyle patterns.
Paola is working to find resiliency for herself and her sister artisans to adapt to changing conditions on their terms. To embrace the opportunities and benefits of an interconnected world without abandoning the identity and cultural values that her ancestors struggled to hand down.