Oax-i-fornia: Raul Cabra

Curator: Joan Raspo
date: February 2, 2012
Categories: Experience Design
Tags: California College of Arts, Design Education
Photo: Raul Cabra
Samples of jewelry made in collaboration with an artisan and CCA students

Oax-i-fornia is the product of eight years of creative collaboration between artisans from Oaxaca, Mexico, and design students from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Created by designer Raul Cabra, the project started as an academic program but has evolved to produce distinctive new contemporary objects that artisans can take to market. The deep exchange of skills that takes place between the design students and artisans is evident in the work, which is grounded in craft from the region but is taken in surprising, non-traditional design directions. 

The students and teachers live together in Hacienda de Guadalupe. The Hacienda itself was a project in reviving the rich history of Oaxaca by restoring a dilapidated structure into an oasis where students live and work for a semester.  

One example is the Oaxacan artist, Esperanza Martinez. She grew up spinning silk and weaving—spending up to one month to produce one rebozo, or shawl.  When she worked with Oax-i-fornia, she explored the “luminescence of the material” and began to produce intricate jewelry and other pieces from the cast-off silk cocoons she had collected since childhood. The work is displayed in the first photo and is a perfect example of the melding of old traditions with the fresh eye of a talented design student.

Photo: Raul Cabra
Students and artisans work together to push the work in new directions.

Photo: Raul Cabra
The lighting ideas students came up with after working with the Oaxaca artisans

Photo: Raul Cabra
Hacienda de Guadalupe, where the students live and work for the semester

Photo: Raul Cabra
The final showroom at the end of the semester

It’s fantastic to see how the Oax-i-fornia students are pushing the boundaries of the objects artisans have been making for decades. And also to see a project based on deep, open-ended cross-cultural collaboration bear fruit.   

  • Raul Cabra

    Thank you AIGA for such a great review of our work. It has been truly a labor of love with over 180 artisans participating and well over 150 art, design, writing, film students throughout the years.

    After all this time, I am still moved at the end of our three week Oax-i-fornia program (which is also open to design professionals) by how deeply engaged all participants are, especially without being able to communicate verbally but only by “making together,” a clear sign to me that design is a powerful tool for cultural exchange, interaction, and even change in cross-cultural contexts.

    raul cabra
    Oax-i-fornia Director

  • Ofstad

    Congratulations!!  The work is beautiful…and so is your model! Qué viva San Dionisio Ocotepec!!  :)

  • emily jan

    It’s been an honour to be a part of the project for the last few years…definitely life changing. :) <3

  • Emily Gibson

    One of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Many thanks to Raul and my amazing Oaxifornia 2009 collaborators for such an enriching exchange of art and ideas.

  • Nensi Brailo

    What a wonderful experience it was observing all the exchange taking place between the artisans and the students! And the best of all the privilege to be able to interview the artisans who participated in this project in 2009 and several like Esperanza who participated in it the years previous! I learned so much about Oaxaca and its history as well!

  • Viviana Ponton

    It has been an absolute pleasure and honor to be part of Oax-i-fornia.
    This project offers an experience than can change anyone’s life. As a designer,
    Oax-i-fornia opened up a whole new world of methodologies for me; not to
    mention how incredibly inspired I left. 

  • sarahi

    I thank Oax-i-fornia, for an incredible experience as a craftsman many thanks to all who are part of this noble project.y claro ” que viva San Dionisio Ocotepec”.Sarahi Garcia.

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