Magali An Berthon is a textile designer, art director, and scholar with extensive knowledge of global arts and crafts, specifically the artisanal practices of Southeast Asia. Her dual Vietnamese and French heritage led to cultural and anthropological interests, which she has pursued in her study of textile history. Magali traded her job in high-end fashion to pursue her own research, seeking to understand sustainable and quintessentially human crafts. Below, Magali delves into her own career experiences and stories of positive transformation.
MAGALI AN BERTHON
I was born in Montreal, Canada. However, my mother is Vietnamese and my father is French. I left Canada when I was three, and we moved to France where I spent most of my life. I visited Vietnam with my family for the first time when I was nineteen. This first trip changed my life. I think it helped me to reconnect with that part of my identity and put me on a path to learn more about myself and my heritage. My mom had not been there for thirty-five years so it was also a shock for her.
Home today is New York. I teach Textile History and Dress and Textiles in World Cultures at a couple of universities in graduate programs, while completing my PhD in textile history. My research focuses on silk in contemporary Cambodia, looking at the perpetuation of weaving practices after the Khmer Rouge regime, but also at the value of silk as a heritage and a means of expression of the Cambodian identity. This project led me to spend some time in Cambodia in the past few years, but also in the diaspora of Long Beach in California. A lot of the work that I do is sitting and listening to people and documenting their lives. I spent time with weavers in villages in Cambodia but also visited Cambodian-American dressmakers and dancers wearing silk in Long Beach. And then I try to put these testimonies in perspective with Cambodia’s complex history and geopolitics.
I started my career as a textile designer and worked in high end fashion. I became disheartened by the industry. I did not agree with how wasteful it was, but also how we would appropriate other cultures by copying and re-imagining their motifs into industrially-produced prints and products. I wanted to see how textile artisans worked locally, what it means to have handmade skills in the world. I started to travel to document artisanal textile practices, taking photos, writing essays and filming, interviewing craftspeople in Southeast Asia, Morocco, Burkina Faso but also in France and in the US. I shared all these textile stories together in a web-documentary Tissus & Artisans du Monde (World Textiles & Artisans), and this put me on the path of documentary film-making and textile anthropology/history.
My goal is to educate about the value of textiles, bringing awareness to these artisanal practices and how they deeply relate to cultural issues. I am looking forward to doing more of that as a documentarist and an academic.
I really love poetry and I have poems running in my head all year long. It changes with the seasons and with how I feel. These days, it’s a verse from ‘The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica’ by Bernadette Mayer that says: ‘Do not be afraid of your own heart beating.’
I express love by caring. I put a lot of care in the work that I do, in the relationships that I have built in my life. I always try to express my gratitude or my enthusiasm or my interest, to have encouraging words and be attentive and present either to my friends, family or my students. I don’t know if I am succeeding, but I keep at it! It can be a bit tiring to care so much and be sensitive about the world this way, but that’s my way of loving.
My favorite funny thing is finding bad puns. I like words. Also English is not my first language so learning the jokes, slowly owning the ropes of speaking in a new language is exciting.
There has been a lot of defining experiences in my life which have pushed me forward and shifted my trajectory. I enjoy working project by project and if it includes a travel, it is even better. Life has always brought a lot of surprises in those moments. It is probably about being curious, more open to the world, to the people you meet and work with. I would like to keep this mindset on a daily basis in my day to day life.
I really love ARTICLE22’s ethos. There is a deep sense of commitment in every decision made behind the jewelry: how it will impact the environment, how it will benefit the makers, how the designs will push the creative limits of their craft… The work is genuine and really grounded in the history, the land and the people of Laos.
My favorite classic bangle is ‘I am love, I am light, I am peace.’ This message speaks to me. I find it soothing and this bangle is a nice companion for my wrist.
My favorite piece of jewelry is a ring. I think it’s a very intimate personal kind of jewelry, it makes one with your fingers, your hand. It comes with you wherever you go, without having to think about it.
"I AM LOVE, I AM LIGHT, I AM PEACE" BANGLE