Behind the brand, there is a woman, Corinne BALLY, and a love story with Panama...
A professional life full of experience and based on literature, communication and handicraft; a curious, passionate and respectful personality - these words define Corinne Bally.
Literature and handicrafts drew Corinne to Panama at a time when she already owned her own gallery in Spain. Her first trip would prove to be the turning point in her life.
When she arrived in Central América, she was immediately impressed by the beauty and uniqueness of the unknown art she discovered there, the art of the indigenous women from this country.
Corinne first organised an exhibition of Panamanian kuna "molas" in her gallery in Valencia. Then, totally charmed ("embrujada" - bewitched, as her Panamanan friend told her) by the 'molas', textile pictures without equal in the world, she decided to go ahead with her Ethic and Tropic project. Corinne started collaborating with the indigenous women she met, working to import to Europe works of art and handicrafts that would progressively draw the attention of some of the most famous decorators, trend forecasters and art lovers around the world.
Connecting with this indigenous culture, making this art accessible and better known through sharing it - it took Corinne a year and several visits to Panama before she was in a position to organize production, ensure consistent quality and plan for introducing Pananamian art and handcrafts to Europe.
In 2012, she decided to close her gallery-shop in Spain and dedicate herself completely to this project, travelling more freely and frequently to Panama. This was the real beginning of Ethic and Tropic.
Thanks to her previous professional experience working with artisans in France, and drawing on the management experience she gained from running her own company in Spain, Corinne was able to identify and ask for the best quality products and works of art. She continued to travel regularly to Panama, meeting lovely people, forging new friendships. Corinne built Ethic and Tropic as a fair trade company based on trust, sincerity and ethical values. In Panama, her friends guided and helped her in her quest.
Few anthropologists have studied the ancestral and cultural origins of the knowledge and the rituals that form the basis for the manufacture of those masks. Michel Perrin is one anthropologist who studies the surviving indigenous cultures and part of their ritual crafts. Corinne made contact with and learnt from Perrin, while making regular visits to remote tribal areas and seeking out the best artisans. She journeyed far from the comfort of the populous Panama city, into the heart of the jungle, the home of the Embera people.
Behind each traditional object, there is usually a woman creator and artisan. Most Central America handicrafts are produced by women, living with their families in their original tribal environment.
Each item sold by ethic and tropic honours this extraordinary deep knowledge and helps support and sustain these women producers and their families, by enabling them to continue living in their traditional environments, far from the big city. While people from many tribes tend to progressively migrate towards towns in search of work, the artisan women producing these crafts are able to keep living with dignity in their home environments.
Ethic and Tropic doesn't have its own workshop but works directly with indigenous women where they live. Each item they make is totally unique and retains something of the magic of the place in which it is produced.
No two pieces will ever be the same, because the indigenous women work freely, drawing on their own creativity, their ancestral knowledge and the inspiration of the changing natural environment around them.
There is something truly magical about the Ethic and Tropic project. It brings, through each unique object the women create, an essential beauty, an extraordinary work of art.
Corinne Bally holds a master's degree in literature and a masters in international communication and journalism from Blaise Pascal University in Clermont-Ferrand.
For twelve years, in France, she worked on newly created European Union programmes, supporting artisans across Europe.
She opened her art and artisan gallery in Valencia, Spain in 2006. In 2012, she created Ethic & Tropic.
Because I love to seek out beauty and nobility, I have chosen to work with the indigenous women of Panama who are the owners of a fabulous "savoir faire".
Because beauty only has meaning if it is linked to respect for traditions, people and their environment, I work as closely as possible with these women, within their communities. I welcome and encourage their creativity and traditions.
ETHIC & TROPIC Corinne Bally offers art and decorative objects, unique pieces handmade in the heart of the tropical forest in Central America by the indigenous women of two small tribes between Panama and Colombia.
The masks originally made for the shamanic rituals are burnt after they have "danced", for this reason old pieces cannot be found. Moreover, the shamanic rituals are less frequent these days. It is unusual to find these kind of masks.
The meeting with the women from the Wounaan and Embera tribes have allowed to save the ancestral technique and create an artisanal activity, an important income source for women, generating a decorative items production and being faithful to the way the ritual masks are made.
For you and your environment´s safety, our products (masks, baskets, etc..) undergo an strict treatment and health control before being shipped.
Masks and Hosig Di baskets are made in the heart of the rainforest.
Women work freely and at their own pace for Ethic & Tropic, they have no limits in the use of their creativity, our only requirement is to be the best quality, using authentic natural materials and dyes.
They don´t travel, I go from village to village and I know all indigenous craftswomen. Nowadays there are hundreds of them. We all meet and get ready the novelties.
During my visit I stay in the women´s home in the heart of the jungle.
I don´t have any intermediary to pass on the orders, nor to pick them up, nor pay the artisans. I pay directly each woman for their work.
The coordinators of each village are indigenous from that same village, I keep in touch with them permanently.
Without Ethic & Tropic both the masks and the techniques used would be disappearing. The masks are used in shamanic rituals and burned after and unfortunately this rituals are dwindling.
With textile handicrafts we collaborate with a social enterprise in Panama City called Chispas de Amor. Sales of these textiles contribute to improving the living conditions of indigenous women in the poorest regions of the country. Partly thanks to an agreement that we signed together in 2015, a sewing workshop was built for the benefit of women of the Rio Chico Community in the forest of Darien.
Molas are always made by Kuna women, drawing from their oldest traditions.
The income is a great opportunity for the community. This worthy and traditional work allows them to stay in their original settlement, away from the cities.
The production for Ethic & Tropic takes place outside the agglomerations, outside the normal circuit of production and supply.
More than simply a work of art, these are unique pieces born in the heart of the jungle.
In the heart of the forest, the masks are made by the women working together in each village, freely and each one at their own pace.
Within the family or talking with the neighbours, you often see the artisans working in their hammocks, rocked by the breeze.
These pieces are imagined and created far from urban life, the inspiration for each piece is drawn from the immediate environment, with individual and also collective imagination.
The women observe the forest, the animals that surround them but also their dreams and beliefs play an important role.
Each artisan is an artist who works with nature and who has their own style.
Try to imagine the slow rhythm of this work, imagine rocking in a hammock, the monkeys’ cries in the forest, the birds singing. Allow yourself to be transported by this ambiance. The artist needed time and patience to create this piece.
Take the time and feel this yourself.
To go and see the artisans, or for them to come to me, do not imagine that we simply take a bus or a car, it means abandoning the 4 x 4 and borrowing a little boat, often for many hours. This is the only way to get around as there are no roads or tracks. There are two large rivers and numerous tributaries linking the villages, which are generally situated on their banks. The same goes here, you need to allow time, and be patient … just imagine it!
The Embera people live in the eastern part of Panama and Colombia, preserving all the traditions and wisdom of their ancestors.
An important aspect of their life is their relationship with the "hay" spirits, through their shamans.
The "hays" are the spirits of nature. You can find them in rivers, forests and animals, and living in every plant and every tree. In a way, they are a representation of the ancestors’ soul.
The masks we are offering you are derived from these shamanic rites. For the Indians, “There is no such thing as a useless creation, art for the sake of art does not exist, there are just functions”. These masks perform a function.
The Indians divide their world into two, the visible world and a parallel, invisible world. “The parallel world is superior to this universe which is in the shadow”, wrote Jean Marie Le Clézio, “it sees men, but men cannot see it”. Thus they invent ways to communicate with this parallel world.
The Kuna Indians are best known for their colourful and impressive artistic production - of molas.
We can trace the origins of the mola back to the traditions of the Kuna women. They used to paint their bodies with geometrical designs, using the natural colours available around them.
Later, they started to sew these drawings onto Western-style shirts and slowly created original outfits, using traditional designs and colours. Molas are genuine art works made from different overlapping colored cloths.
They are authentic works of art made with the technique of reverse appliqué on layered fabrics of different colors.
The mola is a testament to Native American art that dates back about a century.
Molas are sewn onto the Kuna women’s blouses. The blouses are worn with a wrapped Saburet cloth used as a skirt.
The mola, made exclusively by women, demonstrate their talents for creating a high quality look, while bearing witness to the traditions of Panamanian Indian art.
Their inspiration comes from the environment: from plants, from animals... But the molas particularly tell us about the Kuna myths and legends. Their designs reveal strange metamorphises, mazes, demons and fantastic creatures. The Kuna art is an art inspired by gods and goblins.