Since the inaugural fair of Expoartesanías back in 1991, Colombia has become synonymous with beautiful handicrafts, all elaborated by skilled artisans working diverse materials from their regions. The majority of the country’s artesanías are made by ancestral methods embodying the artistry and traditions of a specific territory, making each and every item a unique accessory that is not only decorative and practical but embodies the cosmology of communities.
As diverse as the country in which they are made, Colombia’s arts and crafts range from very traditional to contemporary, giving visitors to Expoartesanías the largest selection of handicrafts available in one exhibition space: Corferias. Starting December 4, and open until December 17, the 29th edition of Expoartesanías takes over eight pavilions and showcases the designs of 800 exhibitors. The Kingdom of Morocco is this year’s Guest of Honor.
While most visitors head to Expoartesanías as part of their annual pilgrimage to buy Christmas gifts for friends and family, the shopping experience is as much about finding that eye-catching mochila woven by the members of an indigenous community in a remote region of Colombia as it is a chance to engage in conversation with the very people who take pride in their traditions.
Making connections between the objects on display and greater social and economic contexts has positioned Expoartesanías among the most culturally relevant arts and crafts fairs in Latin America. Because one thing is to buy a hammock in a souvenir shop and another altogether is to buy it from the very artisans from a specific town or communities whose livelihoods depend on weaving, hat making and pottery, to name a few.
Every year before the doors swing open with Expoartesanías, we like to give readers a sampling of the most emblematic and new in handicrafts, not only as holiday gifts, but personal items to wear or decorate your home.
When it comes to owning a Colombian accessory, the mochila ranks high among the “must-haves,” especially those woven in lambswool by the members of the Arhuaco and Kogi peoples in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. But because they tend to be heavier and great for cold climates, check out the mochilas of the Kankuamo, also inhabitants of the Sierra Nevada, and a tradition of weaving mochilas from cactus fibers, which make them ideal for taking to the beach or pool.
Carmen de Viboral is a town in the Oriente Antioqueño with a ceramic making tradition that dates back to the early 19th century. If looking for colorful mugs, plates and bowls, these artisans always do brisk business at Expoartesanías, and offer perfect gifts for those who appreciate hand-painted tableware.
Vaupés in Eastern Colombia lies at the crossroads of two majestic river basins – Amazon and Orinoco – and home to the Nukak and Tukano tribes, known for elaborating ceremonial bowls from silt before burning them over fire. The handcrafts from Vaupés make for a unique gift, and contribute to the well-being of artisans in remote communities.
As exhibitors from near and far unfurl their tablecloths, ruanas and textiles, for the 70,000 visitors who make the annual pilgrimage to the fair carpets are always a big draw. If looking for the most eye-catching, the town of Curití (Santander) is home to weavers with an incredible sense of design and color. From elaborating bathroom mats to wall hangings, these artisans work with dried cactus fibers, and a material that is both flexible and easily transportable.
If you manage to find a black Chamba bowl overseas, chances are you’ll pay a hefty price for that jug, bowl or serving plate, given these items are made by the potters of Chamba, a community of 5,000 inhabitants in Tolima. As there are many faux Chambas on the street, take advantage of the fair to buy the real deal and at prices that can’t be beat. Chamba bowls can be cooked on a stove or in the oven as they have been cured in kilns, and therefore ideal for serving soups and stews.
With pavilions dedicated to every style of accessory and crafts, Expoartesanías 2019 is also a window on the country’s gastronomy with a food hall where visitors can enjoy dishes prepared by cooks from many regions of Colombia. The fair also has rows upon rows of vendors with creations to keep youngsters entertained. From wooden toys to traditional musical instruments, many of the children’s gifts on offer have a timeless appeal regardless of one’s age, such as a set of maracas or floppy mask worn during the Barranquilla Carnival.
Moroccan handicrafts will deck much of the International Pavillion at Expoartesanías, giving visitors a rare opportunity to pick up home furnishings from a country, that like Colombia, celebrates its artisans and craft heritage. Among the popular accessories from a nation admired for its Moorish and modernist influences are tapestries, embroidered cushions, Fez ceramics and brass lanterns – ideal for cozy Bogotá nights.
Corferias: Cra 37 No.24-67.