An Old Crop Gets a New Life
See how artist Fernando Laposse transforms corn husks into art.
Oct 31, 2023
Design can play an important role in giving new life to community traditions. The work of Fernando Laposse—currently featured in the exhibition Life Cycles: The Materials of Contemporary Design—is a vivid example, dedicated as it is to reviving and preserving the ecosystem of ancestral grains while also bolstering economic stability in Mexico’s Indigenous communities. His journey began in childhood, when he spent summers in Tonahuixtla, a village in the southwestern Mexican state of Puebla. It was there that he first encountered the Mixtec community and their heirloom corn–farming practices. After completing his studies in product design at Central Saint Martins in London, he returned to Tonahuixtla only to find that the Mixtec people had left. They were searching for new work opportunities, displaced by the onslaught of industrial corn production that had taken over Mexican agriculture and territory after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. New, intensive extraction practices had made the land useless for traditional farming due to soil degradation and the loss of ancient seeds. In a country that adopted the slogan in maíz, no hay país (“without corn, there is no country”), corn is found in more than 80% of recipes and is not only a crucial source of nutrition but also a repository of the nation’s culture. Laposse embarked on a mission to reintroduce native seeds to the village and bring traditional agricultural practices back to life by developing Totomoxtle, meaning “corn husks” in native language. The material, crafted indeed from leftover corn husks collected during the harvest, is transformed by the locals into an attractive and versatile veneer inspired by traditional woodworking marquetry, adding an important step in the goal of a circular cycle system of production––of economy and culture.
Recently, MoMA associate educator Arlette Hernandez interviewed Laposse to talk about the importance of Mexican corn and how he’s using corn husks as a new, self-sustaining material.
—Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, and Director, Research and Development
Life Cycles: The Materials of Contemporary Design is on view at MoMA Through July 7, 2024.
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