Investigating the Aura of Space and Craft at Maiwa

Much as art is described by Walter Benjamin as having its own aura, the space it’s situated in too has its own unique aura that affects the way we experience the art. There is a relationship between the art, the space it is situated in, and the identity of the audience. It is through this relationship that I will review Maiwa as both an art and a business space.

Maiwa is located on Granville Island. I worked on Granville Island in the public market for just over 2 years so my relationship with the space is both tainted by, and knowledgeable from that experience. The overall feel for most people on Granville Island I would say is a relaxing, slower paced, and entertaining environment. It is a partially staged environment, like a mild Disneyland for arts and craft. The staged space has been readopted and re-contextualized by the people working there every day which in a sense makes it authentic. Many people visiting the island, particularly in the summer months are on vacation, or in weekend mode. This touristy vibe guides the pace of the island. It is so influential that people forget about simple things like not to walk in front of moving cars. The experience of browsing in and out of locally owned small stores and studios full of art and artisanal items provides an entertaining experience for tourists, and a low aggression sales environment for them to buy their unique souvenirs. Most of the locals coming on errands do their shopping early in the morning before the crowds, and have a pre-planned trajectory for getting in and out fast. Conceptually the space and feel of Granville Island is a fitting location for Maiwa as a business/arts space.

Our class was directed upstairs into the Maiwa ‘library’ of fabrics to be read. As soon as I entered the space I felt completely welcomed by the transformative beauty of colour, pattern, and textures of fabric. As a person who compulsively collects thrift store scarves (and covers their walls, lamps, and tables with them) the space felt extremely comfortable and at home. I was also immediately aware of how blandly I was dressed and was overcome by a desire to reinvent my wardrobe with the beautiful fabrics around me. The handmade, one of a kind, labour intensive cloths at Maiwa are heavily embedded with the cultural memory and identity of the places they were made, and with the personality of the textile makers. The cloths aren’t being used for traditional purposes as they once may have been. They have now partaken in the ceremony of (a perhaps gentler) capitalist exchange. However, I would feel no guilt in buying one of these beautiful garments as I find the Maiwa business model ethically preferable to many clothes shopping alternatives for a multitude of reasons. Alas my budget does not allow it. While being surrounded by the Maiwa textiles my mind led me to the Japanese idea that the wearer of a garment embeds a piece of their soul into it. I am comforted in thinking about this when thinking about the future of each neatly displayed and price tagged piece of wearable art in the Maiwa store. There is an evolving relationship in each textile between the traditional cultural and ritualistic contexts of each Maiwa garment and the continued  re-contextualization through the cultural and ritualistic experiences of the new wearer.  I would recommend to anyone who has respect for the knowledge, history and labour of craft, and an eye for beautiful things to visit Maiwa. If the wallet allows, and the desire grabs you, you too can participate through a wearable performance, in the dynamic life of a Maiwa Textile.

-Andrea Terpenkas

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