saiyare refaei working

Saiyare Refaei

Graduation Year: 2014
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Project Title: “The Role of NAFTA on Oaxacan Artist Collectives for Social Justice”/“El Papel de TLCAN para los Artistas de los Colectivos Oaxaqueños para la Justicia Social”

Brief Summary of Research Project:

Upon returning to Oaxaca, Mexico for eight weeks, I examined the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on the formation and continuation of artist collectives in the city of Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico.

All in all, I interviewed 17 artists; four from the artist collective Asamblea de Artistas Revolucionarios de Oaxaca/ Assembly of Revolutionary Oaxacan Artists (ASARO), five artists from the artist collective El Gabinete Gráfico (The Graphic Cabinet), five artists who work individually with varying artistic mediums and three artisan weavers in cooperatives from the town of Teotitlán del Valle.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ultimately impacted the artists and artisans of Oaxaca indirectly after the transformation of the Mexican economy and the rising price of imported art supplies due to international competition. A common theme I discovered was that even if the artists worked as part of a collective or not, they could not sustain themselves economically by solely their art. The artist collectives that have maintained their businesses are the ones more concerned about collaborating with others than their earnings. In turn, they depend on other family members, projects with other artists, commissioned murals or workshops from the government and other means to maintain a steady income. More importantly, the current artists of Oaxaca ranging from ages 25 to 71 that I interviewed were impacted more by the social movement in Oaxaca during 2006; economically with the lack of tourism, the formation of artist collectives and the way they have become conscientious of giving back to their fellow Oaxacans.

Advice to future Wang Grant applicants and/or recipients:

Applicants: I recommend checking the due dates for the applications and brainstorm your project ideas with your professors. Try to connect with at least one professor that knows you well and would be willing write your letter of recommendation. Be sure to have a concrete outline and timeline of what you plan to accomplish. Certainly things may change as you begin your project but its better to be prepared with background information about your project theme or subject.

Recipients: Prepare or read up on your project topic before you arrive to your destination. Keep in touch with your contact professor because they can help with your theoretical framework and hold you accountable on your project timeline. Take advantage of the time you have abroad and this grand opportunity, so that you can share your gained knowledge with the campus community upon your return.