About the Filmmaker – Carolyn Kallenborn

Carolyn Kallenborn is an associate professor in Design Studies department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, U.S.A. Since 2004, she has worked with artisans in the central valleys of Oaxaca. The inspiration for her artworks has come from the rich exchange of ideas and culture through collaborations and teaching/learning with the Oaxacan artisans. In 2012, her exhibition “Tormentas y Sueños” was shown at the Textile Museum of Oaxaca. She is the creator and producer of Woven Lives, which is a documentary that celebrates the art of Zapotec weavers in Oaxaca, Mexico. The film was released in 2011.


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Three minute TV Interview from the exhibition “Tormentas y Sueños¨ at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.


University of Wisconsin-Madison Design Studies Program



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Why I wanted to Make this Film


As an artist, all of my works are very personal. Though the form may vary from sculpture to dyed and stitched cloth to an installation or a film, the work always originates from a story or experience I want to share.  I create works as visual poetry, not to literally re-create a scene or story, but to evoke how something feels. What I have written below, is not in the script, but rather my personal motivation for creating this film.


When I am in the U.S. it seems like that thought of death, and certainly the thought of our own demise, is a subject we tend to avoid. In every respect we protect ourselves from danger and death. We sell meat that has no traces of the being in once was. We embalm and entomb our dead in the thought that their bodies will remain unchanged.  It sometimes seems that we try to fool ourselves into thinking that if don’t look at death then maybe it won’t really come. 


In my years of traveling to Oaxaca, I noticed that death and danger are an accepted part of every day life. People ride in the back of pick-ups all the time, manhole covers are left open on the sidewalks and people shoot fireworks right off their heads during fiestas. Whole, plucked chickens and skinned pig heads hang in the market stalls. The iconic image of “La Calavera Catrina” the humorous, elegant skeleton dressed in fancy clothes, is ubiquitous. 


My Oaxacan friends talk cheerfully about “Los Muertos” describing the large sand paintings, and elaborate altars set for the festival when the dead return to party with the living.  I am captivated by stories and photos of the festival where people sit by the gravesides at 2 a.m. and share memories of their departed family members, play cards and picnic by the graves. It is a time that is both joyous and sad, painful and beautiful.


I want to share the story of Day of the Dead because it is such a beautiful and poetic alternative view of death and our relationship to our loved ones who have passed. As an invitation to spend a few days each year to acknowledge and honor death and the dead, the celebration emphasizes importance of deeply enjoying life because we are reminded that we will not be here forever.