Oaxaca, Mexico

Open to all majors, this experimental multimedia studio class, produced in collaboration with the Oax-i-fornia Project, explores the opportunities and implications of collaborative work with local craftspeople. The studio consists of three weeks of experimental work, bringing together artists, designers, and artisans in the valley surrounding the city of Oaxaca. Apprenticed directly to indigenous master craftspeople in a carefully crafted cultural immersion, students experience this time-honored form of cultural inheritance. Experimentation, and the production of pictorial and narrative work, is informed by the interaction with local arts and culture, as well as an understanding of the historical forces that shaped them.

Inspiration Oaxaca: Cultural Engagement through Design

Instructors: Thorina Rose and Raul Cabra
June 11-June 30, 2018

Check-in: Sunday, June 10
Checkout: Sunday, July 1

Interested students should contact Thorina Rose (trose2@cca.edu) to start the approval process for registration.

On a high-altitude desert plateau surrounded by the sierra of southern Mexico, Oaxaca is a city rich in heritage, weaving together the histories of ancient indigenous cultures, the Spanish colonial period, and sophisticated contemporary culture. Well known for its concentration of the arts, it boasts several UNESCO world heritage sites. Home to the modern-era painters, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, the colonial gem of Oaxaca hosts a vibrant contemporary art and design scene that uniquely reflects the spirit of contemporary Mexico while honoring its historical roots.

As the world becomes increasingly polarized: politically, economically and technologically, it seems ever more urgent to experience cultures and crafts that are at risk of vanishing due to development. The Oaxaca summer course brings students directly into the homes and ateliers of indigenous artisans. Students learn by acquiring knowledge through immersion in another culture and by the linked processes of observation, experimentation, and making. In terms of process and cognition, the program takes students out of their creative comfort zones — and pushes the boundaries of what they imagined they could create.

The initial phase of this studio provides an opportunity for detailed observation and visual transcription of experience, through drawing, narrative illustration, and other forms of 2-D visualization. Afterwards, students learn to extrapolate and reconstitute their designs for translation into new materials and processes.

The second part of the class investigates and defines new methodologies for the use of design, art, and creativity as tools for social change and cultural engagement. Working one-on-one with local artisans, students translate two-dimensional pieces into a wide range of media such as textiles, ceramic, wood, and weaving. They explore the possibilities implicit in this kind of trans-media collaboration and, at the same time, provide economic potential, in the use of resulting objects, for the artisans with whom they collaborate.

Field work is complemented by visits to important cultural sites with the guidance of local historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and architects. Daily discussions address ethical issues of cultural appropriation and translation, the use of art and design as a "revitalizing force” to promote economic development of dying artistic trades, environmental sustainability, and the creation of mutually beneficial models for creative collaboration.

Students live together at the Ex-Hacienda Guadalupe in the town of Tlacochahuaya, 20 minutes outside the city of Oaxaca in the central valley. Also in residence at the hacienda (ranch) are six dogs, three donkeys, two horses, and a family of owls. Organic produce is grown locally and students enjoy gourmet family style breakfasts and lunches prepared by the on-site chef.

About the Instructors

Thorina Rose and Raul Cabra have collaborated as illustrator/designer on numerous projects over the span of more than two decades and consequently formed a close working relationship as well as friendship. One early project was a health, wellness, and legal resource for the Latin American immigrants who have migrated to San Francisco; this public service campaign took the form of bus shelters, a billboard, and laminated informative maps. The project design relied heavily on interviews and focus groups conducted with members of the target audience.

Raul is a former longtime senior adjunct professor at CCA where he taught design and social impact issues at the graduate and undergraduate levels. He holds a MA in design from UC Berkeley, has been widely recognized in his field, and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. He has also published, exhibited, and lectured internationally.

Raul eventually relocated to Mexico, where he developed his celebrated Oax-i-fornia program in which students learn from indigenous craftspeople. Since Oax-i-fornia’s founding, Thorina has visited frequently, witnessing the program’s evolution. Upon joining the CCA faculty three years ago, she is enthusiastic about the opportunity to offer this unique experience to CCA students.

Learn more about Thorina Rose »


Undergraduate Students: Completion of sophomore level by Summer 2018 and instructor approval
For Illustration Tools Elective credit: Illustration 2 (ILLUS-204) and Tools: Intro to Digital Media (ILLUS-206)
For Diversity Studies Studio credit: Drawing 1, 2D, 3D, 4D, Writing 1, Foundations in Critical Studies, Intro to the Arts and Intro to the Modern Arts. Junior standing
For Upper-Division Interdisciplinary Studio credit: Drawing 1, 2D, 3D, 4D, Writing 1, Foundations in Critical Studies, Intro to the Arts and Intro to the Modern Arts. Junior Standing
Graduate Students: instructor approval

In addition, all students must be in good academic, conduct, and financial standing for the 2017-18 academic year. Students who are on probation in fall 2017 are not eligible to enroll in a 2018 summer study-abroad program.

Course Satisfies

For undergraduate students, this course fulfills a studio elective requirement, an Illustration Tools Elective, Diversity Studies Studio, an Upper Division Interdisciplinary Studio requirement, or a Studio Elective.
For graduate students, this course satisfies a Grad-wide Elective.

Program Fee

$5,100 + $50 summer registration fee

Included in program fee:
3 credits, housing, meals, local transportation, guest artisans, local guides, field trips, entrance fees, and travel/health insurance

Not included in program fee:
Airfare to and from Oaxaca, transportation to and from airport

Related Topics
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All CCA summer study-abroad courses (including Brooklyn) are coordinated by the Office of Special Programs.

Questions? Please see Frequently Asked Questions.

Office of Special Programs
Oakland campus, Ralls 201

Nina Sadek
Dean of Special Programs

Carol Pitts
Operations Manager, Special Programs