Within the west wing of Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art, the Gallery of Conscience draws folk artists and folk art enthusiasts worldwide to engage in dialogue about issues facing contemporary folk artists. This newly shaped gallery, whose annual exhibitions open in conjunction with Santa Fe’s International Folk Art Market, features beautiful and compelling handmade objects as well as the artists’ own words. Gallery Director, Dr. Suzanne Seriff states: “We are dedicated to examining the roles that compassion, forgiveness, faith, perseverance, beauty, vision, and love play in addressing the very real economic, racial, gendered, and social challenges faced by traditional craftsmen in today’s global marketplace.”
The Gallery of Conscience has become a place for continuous engagement, which allows artisans to come together to share, teach, inspire, and explore. According to Seriff, who also served as curator of the first two exhibits, “The Gallery of Conscience allows artists to share their heart-rending stories and provides a space for visitors to hear of their successes and challenges. Beyond that, it has also created a platform for them to dialogue with each other about best practices to solve real problems. Folk artists’ problems are the world’s problems: domestic violence within families, reconciliation and forgiveness between neighbors after genocide, environmental devastation of raw materials, illiteracy, financial insolvency, and competition among artisan families. Folk artists have unique solutions that they can share with one another and the larger community.”
In 2010, the inaugural event was “Empowering Woman: Artisan Cooperatives that Transform Communities," a powerful traveling exhibition that highlighted a revolutionary movement of female artisans worldwide who are beginning to work together to produce and sell their arts. It illustrated how women’s craft cooperatives directly served their communities and became agents of change. The exhibition displayed ten international folk art cooperatives and included personal quotes, exquisite photos, and examples of their traditional artwork. Each piece told a significant story of art empowering women to become leaders, reconcile after genocide, escape domestic violence, or become financially solvent. One genocide survivor from Rwanda pointed out, "Art helps cure the hopeless soul."
The second exhibition, “The Arts of Survival: Folk Expression in the Face of Disaster”, spoke of the resilience of humankind when dealing with natural disasters. Seriff explains: “This exhibition provided a window into the many ways in which traditional craftsmen responded to natural disasters with vision, dignity, compassion, and care.” As tragic events shattered the lives of millions, their arts became a source of solace, a way to memorialize lost lives, and a means to gain economic renewal.
Dr. Marsha Bol, Director of the Museum of International Folk Art, discusses the importance and role of the Gallery of Conscience within the Museum itself, "As the largest folk art museum in the world, we have a responsibility to create a forum to discuss current issues that folk artists around the world are facing. The Gallery of Conscience brings our visitors into an intimate conversation with the artists who creatively address these issues that seriously threaten their survival."
For more information, please visit: www.internationalfolkart.org.