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Introduction: International Ethnic
There is more to life than stripped pine. More even than stencils on tastefully colourwashed walls. Around the world, people have responded to the profound human urge to make a home in very different ways: centuries of evolution have led to the spare and elegant Japanese house, whose structure, its very ribcage, is part of its unchanging traditional beauty, and where the decorative impulse is to pare away the inessentials to reach the true identity of the wood, paper and bamboo from which it is built. By contrast South African mud buildings do not share the worthy integrity of the Oriental style but they are an eclectic triumph, taking whimsical bits and pieces from whatever comes to hand, creating baroque and witty pastiches of doughty Edwardian artefacts in materials as ephemeral and eternal as the earth and grasses of which these houses are a transitional stage--this is the opposite process to that which inspires a hoarding of the past, tethering it to the future with conservation, gifts and legacies--this is a way of life that celebrates the moment, making much with nothing.
Ingenuity is what characterizes ethnic thinking, making the most of what you have, stretching and exploiting limited resources, making the solution eclipse the problem--this finds expression in creations as diverse as the plain and sophisticated Shaker cherrywood box where utility combined with perfectionist technique generates beauty, and at the other extreme the rococo vibrancy of Mexican ceramics, all extraneous twiddles and twirls, irreverently painted, and made from nothing more than glazed earth. Where earth or wood is all you have, they can fulfil manyfunctions and taken on a million forms. Similarly with textiles. The primitive backstrap loom is a highly portable and universal means by which cotton or wool can be woven into long narrow strips. Depending on which part of the globe you are inhabiting, these will then be sewn together to create hammocks, sashes, curtains, blankets or rugs. Entire homes or rooms even. In the baking heat of India and North Africa, ephemeral curtains provide all the privacy required and allow breezes to cool those within.
What unites the whole world is colour. Colour costs nothing, textiles can be dyed to brilliant rainbows with berries and roots; syncopated chevrons can dance across walls, fuelled by nothing more than mud. Icy Greek blue and white in combination, the bloom of dusty fruit colours in rural Italy; singing synthetic sweet pinks and yellows in the Caribbean, in vibrant celebration of E numbers--colour is potent magic achieved with the most simple and universal means. Even the subtle traditional colours of Scandinavian woodwork are made with a very basic formula composed of linseed oil and turpentine mixed with easily available dry pigment.
The world divides into two tribes--those who scurry indoors when the snow begins to fall, whose possessions are consolation for long winter evenings--and those who have no winter and for whom the street is an additional and much used room, who habitually work under the vines and just step inside to fetch a basket for the knitting wool, or scissors to cut the embroidery thread. Here the decoration will probably be more exuberant outside than in.
And there are the nomads who have such a passion for open spaces that the whole world is not enough, and for whom home is not a place but a group of people with very few possessions.
It is this fascinating urge to decorate that unites the family of man, where each can enrich the other. Imbenge Zulu baskets for example, swirling cocktails of colour made from telephone wire, speak a common language with the conventional finesse of Chinese bamboo wedding baskets. And the brilliant backstrap woven textiles of Guatemala bear a close relationship to the bright patterned strips that make a hammock in Sierra Leone; the flat-weave kelims of Anatolia have a fraternal resemblance to Navajo rugs and Finnish ryiji wedding carpets. The aim of this book is to celebrate the indomitable genius of the human spirit in all its variety.