Melissa Avila’s home in Mexico City has been fit-out with shelving to display her collection of colourful, one-of-a-kind objects. Most of them come from her ongoing project, M.A, in which she works alongside artisan partners – Mayan craftspeople from the South of Mexico – to produce clay vessels, woven rugs and wall hangings all made using traditional practices.
We visit Melissa at home to learn more about her practices and find out what led her to work on M.A.
Where did you grow up? What is most special to you about your childhood?
I grew up in Tijuana, it’s a peculiar place because it’s a border city, very alive and constantly changing. An interesting hybrid, two worlds together but at the same time very different. Something I feel is special about my childhood was the proximity to the sea and always being surrounded by animals at home.
I grew up in Tijuana, it’s a peculiar place because it’s a border city, very alive and constantly changing.
How did you come to start your business, Project M.A.?
I have always been a lover and admirer of artisanal processes and indigenous cosmovisions. I didn’t grow up seeing or living amongst the kind of traditions of Mexico that I find in the south of the country and evidently from a very young age I was curious to go deeper into it. I studied fine arts and I also work designing educational programs around inclusion, gender and digital culture. I really love community and collaborative work and the project was born from a desire to combine my artistic practice and my knowledge of the practices and the knowledge of my friends and collaborators artisans. I also work in cultural management, photography and drawing. So M.A is a project that combines all these interests, some of them came to me from a very young age and others have been cultivated throughout my life.
Tell us about your relationship with the artisans, how do you foster it?
Our relationship is very good, very familiar and there is a lot of openness and a desire to do different things together. We are learning a lot from each other and we are also risking a lot by working in ways that we didn’t know before and so it is very interesting. We have similar interests, so it’s easy to connect, we have a shared interest in promotion, rescue, preservation, education, local knowledge, nature and collaboration.
Tell us about the decision to work with materials such as wool and clay?
We work with what’s local, what exists naturally and is used in the communities. I personally love the processes, they are always very different and they never cease to amaze me.The materials we use are materials that have been used for generations and generations, materials that are familiar to the artisans because they grew up surrounded by them.
The processes are ancestral, some of them very rustic and laborious. We do not use electricity or ovens, for example, when working with clay. The firing is at open sky and we measure the temperature intuitively. Right now we are also working with black clay, henequen, marble and stone. So the materials always vary depending on the pieces and the collaborations.
The processes are ancestral, some of them very rustic and laborious. We do not use electricity or ovens, for example, when working with clay. The firing is at open sky and we measure the temperature intuitively.
Do you have a morning routine?
I usually read a bit in bed before starting the day, sunbathing for couple of minutes is crucial and then I take my dogs for a walk. I also like to drink orange juice and it’s funny that now that I think about it, part of my routine is also looking at the treetops while I ride my bike to work.
A bedtime routine?
I play quiet music, draw a bit and try to remember my day, from waking until that moment.
Do you practice meditation?
Having a sacred space for me is very important, not only for meditation but also to disconnect from everything, to enter into an intimate state with yourself. I also use it to sing, to do breathing exercises, to read tarot, to be thankful, to remember, to get rid of stress…
What can you share with us about your home? What are some of the pieces that you love?
I love my bed, it’s very important, my plants and the objects that I have been collecting during my travels. My shrine is very important, to me it’s not a house without that sacred space and also I love my little hammock.
What are you working on right now?
At M.A we are working new pieces and a very special jewellery collaboration. At the same time, I’m working on the compilation of contents of a program that we carry out in Mayan communities with young people around preservation and the diffusion of the Mayan language.