An interview with founder and designer Kythzia Barrera, on the importance of clay and the philosophy behind Colectivo 1050º


Colectivo 1050º 's motto is Somos Barros, We are Clay. A cooperative formed by 17 members, Colectivo 1050º represents more than 50 potters from seven different villages, each with unique techniques, language and territory.
In February 2022, my partner and I were invited to take part to a 2-day workshops in Oaxaca with the members of the collective, led by  Kythzia Barrera and Diego  Mier y Terán. 
Out of this beautiful experience I wanted to explore in more depth some of the key pillars at the base of the collective and they way they operate. 


What brings us together is our love for clay and the aim to share its kindness with you and the world. With our trade, whose roots go deep into history, we strive for a better future for our families and communities. We create simple and elegant designs in collaboration, bridging the rural and indigenous world closer to the modernism of urban life and the wisdom of traditions closer to the dynamism of innovations.
Colectivo 1050 º
RG: I’d like to start by asking you why you and Diego decided to focus on clay.
KB: Diego and I decided to focus on clay for two main reasons. 
First of all clay-making traditions are very old and they are an important source of history not only in our culture. We believe clay-making is at the base of many cultures and civilisations, and through clay objects we are now able to understand how developed an entire past civilisation was, what we were able to create and even past beliefs as our cosmo-vision was translated into clay. We are very interested in diving into the subjects that archaeology and history have been researching for a long time, however we believe that nobody researched and follow the thread of the history of clay in Mexico from a history of design point of view.

We believe that the thread somehow got caught and we needed to keep researching it, talking about it and reflect upon. 

The other reason is that we saw 20 years ago that clay making was in a difficult state and that the prices were extremely low. There was no appreciation for the crafts traditions by none, either Mexicans or foreigners, you could see clay object only in small corners in the market or sidewalks outside the markets, there was not a good status for it and the quality was very low.

In particular the lack of quality was a problem, although the traditions and knowledge was carried on by the same villages and groups that would have created the amazing pieces you could see at the Archeological museum in Mexico City, the pieces you could find in the market didn’t have the same quality of production.

For these reasons we thought clay would be the perfect medium for us to continue this research and discussion and to develop ways in which the tradition could continue in the future. 

Clay is the perfect material and culture and Oaxaca is the perfect laboratory to experiment with the possibilities of clay from a modern and innovative design point of view and the possible bridges that we could crate between modern design and a millenary tradition and history. 




RG: What does clay mean to the potters in the villages, which are part of the cooperative Colectivo 1050 Grados?

KB: I would love for them answer that questions, because I believe it is a very important part of their identity and income, so it is a very interesting of mixture between passion for art and creativity, self expression and also an economical activity. But I am not sure how to answer that, because I don’t know what it means to be part of a community in which clay traditions have been passed on from mothers to daughters continuously for 4000 years. I can imagine it means the world.




RG: Can you talk about the collaborative creative process at the base of Colectivo? In particular I am interested in the delicate balance between respecting traditions and introducing innovation.

This is a very complex subject, I think for us it has been the most interesting part of our work. When you finish design school, none has thought you about the history of clay objects in Mexico, so you go out to the villages and you might think that it will be very easy to collaborate on new designs and you do have all the rights to go there and ‘help’ by offering your great ideas, and this is exactly what one should never do. 

However, this is exactly what I did, and it was very easy and clear to see that it was an absolutely pointless and out of place approach because 4000 years traditions have to be treated with much more respect. So after having few difficult years at the beginning, and difficult conversations with the potters in the villages, they showed me in a very respectful way, a path forward. I realised that it was about a cultural conversation, that had to start with questions and not with answers from a designer that comes from the city. The first moment of truth that I had regarding this collaboration and the balance between innovation and traditions was when we organised a workshop where we would team up designers and artisans and Diego and I would ask questions for them to answer through a conversation and not through objects. After that conversation we would translate the outcomes of the dialogue into objects and through playful collaboration we came up with our first collection.

Through this experience we realised that we were not just designing objects, but we were designing relationships, and ways to overcome years of lack of communications and understanding between Mexicans, the ones that are keeping alive the traditions in the villages, and the modern Mexican, that lives in a completely different country. I think this is the most important asset of Colectivo 1050 Grados, is that we build conversations and relationships and from that objects are born.


I would like to ask you about the role of craft and sustainability. It occurred to me when I came for the workshop that the relationship of the potters with their environment is of respect, and the knowledge of nature and the specific geographic conditions they live in inform their work. Through your work and experience at Colectivo's do you think craft can teach us lessons on how to build a more sustainable future?  

Definitely. Especially clay and clay-making tradition which is connected to earth and really roots you and itself into the meaning of being human and touching the Earth and being part of the earth. 

In one of the oldest Mayan books about the creation of the world, a story is humans were created out of clay, out of earth. This is just to understand how deeply indigenous people are connected to clay and how important is to consider themselves as part of the environment and nature and not separated from it. Clay making tradition it’s a culture of peace, if you are not in peace with yourself and your environment you can’t create anything from clay. Clay making tradition is the conjunction of many different relationships, there is a relationship with culture, with the territory, with all the elements that you have to understand because your livelihood depends on it, the soil, the sun, the fire, the wind, where to go a dig the clay with your hands, very concretely what time it would rain, in which season you can produce more because of the sun, or the humidity, and there is a very deep understanding of the cycle of nature, because your production is at once with it and your knowledge of the environment informs your success as a potter. They learnt all of the knowledge by observing nature and its cycles, and we can learn many lessons not just about sustainability but also about the problems that we are creating. So much wisdom, knowledge, I consider the women the real designers and masters.  




Explore our curated selection from Colectivo 1050º  here