TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion for Rayela Art: Free Shipping!

A friend posted on Facebook that the lines had been forming in front of Best Buy early yesterday and that there were even many tents...  It always strikes me as such a testament to our screwed up values when people will suffer the weather or discomfort for the cause of discounts or sports, but we can't get people out for causes like human rights, the environment, or peace.

Big heavy sigh....  

On that note, here I am facing the big buying season of the year, hoping that I, too, will have some brisk business in my shops.  It's the big contradiction of my life:  I want to live simply so that others may simply live, and yet I love stuff, buy it and sell it.  Stuff that nobody really needs.  My comfort lies in that I truly believe that helping keep handcrafts alive is part of the fundamental picture of supporting self-sufficiency and encourages the arts to flourish on all levels.  Understanding the source of raw materials, how they can be used and allowing self and cultural expression to make a mark is the spiritual side of stuff.  Or, so I believe.

Kuchi Beaded Patch, Afghanistan

Most of "stuff" I carry are traditional textiles and remnants from ethnic groups around the world: Kuchi, Banjara, Kuna, Miao, and other minority groups.  Many of them face terrible odds against surviving as a people as we force industrialization, relocation, and war upon them.  These pieces of fabric represent long histories that may not be around for much longer.

Molas look fantastic when they are framed!

My target audience in buying is geared towards other fiber artists and sewers who can incorporate these bits and pieces of living history into their own work.  But, they also make wonderful gifts.  What can you do with a beaded patch like the one above?  The easiest thing to make it into a finished gift is to frame it.  If you sew, you can add it on to a bag, hat, book cover, or any fabric background, thus personalizing a simple commercial object.

Ralli Quilt from Pakistan

I also carry larger finished pieces like ralli quilts and suzani textiles.  These are perfect gifts for college kids who like tribal art or for anyone who enjoys these textiles.  Do you have a world traveler on your list?  Then you surely will find something in my store for that hard-to-buy-for person!

Rayela Art can also be found on 1000 Markets.  There you will find the things that I have made: Hats, bags, pillow covers.

After the Holiday season, I will focus on more of my own work, but first I have to finish listing all of the bins of "stuff" that are still going to go on Etsy and eBay.  (I am in the process of re-organizing my eBay store and as of today, it is empty, but will soon be back on track...)

Now, for my shameless self-promotion:
Mention this blog post and get free shipping in the US on any purchases through December 5th.  Overseas customers, I'll refund $5 off your shipping cost, but don't forget to mention this post!

And, to all of us, I offer up my sincere hope that we may all experience great joy and bountiful love in this season!  This can be a time for great stress and depression for many, but my hope is that we may all have peace and love in our hearts, today and every day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks for Our Broken World and Hoping for Peace

Today is Thanksgiving here in the United States.  A day when most of us spend time with people we love, eat too much and hopefully think about all that we have to be thankful for in our lives.  It's a messed up world.  War, hunger and destruction all over the place.  Yet, there are pockets of hope, people coming together from many cultures, faiths, traditions, all calling for and working towards the basics that make life bountiful: safety, housing, food, education, and protection of our environment.

These videos are representative of some of these voices.  I know that I have many, many things to be thankful for and one of them is all the wonderful relationships that have come through this blog and other cyber networks.  We may live far from each other, but we may also keep each other close to our hearts.

May you be surrounded by peace and love in your corner of the world!  Happy Thanksgiving!


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Deerwoman Designs Uses Beads from Afghan Tribal Arts

Carnelian, Jade and Turquoise Necklace 

Normally, I try to keep this blog's subject matters closely tied to themes that address textiles or fiber art.  But, I have two friends who have small businesses where beads dominate the scene.  Anita Ghaemi of Deerwoman Designs makes the beautiful jewelry shown in this post and Abdul Wardak of Afghan Tribal Arts supplies her and other jewelry makers and bead stores around the country with his hand-carved, natural beads from Afghanistan.  Actually, beads do not really stray far from the textile/fiber art road, as many of us love to incorporate them into our pieces.

Abdul has been my buddy for a long, long time now.  We used to be partners in a Chicago Gallery, Dara Tribal Village.  After I moved to Kentucky, I continued to sell online and he travels around wholesaling his products from Afghan Tribal Arts.  I have been helping him develop an online presence.  Abdul is a wonderful storyteller, but can't spell worth a dime.  He now has a store on Etsy and I have just loaded a bunch of his beads there. 

Flat Oval Jade Beads from Afghan Tribal Arts 
now available on Etsy!

These beads from Afghanistan have been hand-carved from semi-precious stones like jade, carnelian, lapis lazuli and onyx.  Afghanistan has long supplied artisans all over the world with its vast mineral natural resources.  The coveted lapis lazuli, only found there and in Chile, made its way into glass work, inlay, mosaics, and illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages.  Today's bead market has changed a great deal since those days as synthetics, dyes and cheap imitations undermine the value of these natural stones.  We decided to list the beads on Etsy as strands instead of selling them as single beads partly because it is easier for me to keep track of his inventory this way.  So, a strand can cost between $10-$100, depending on the value of the stone, the cut and its length.

Deerwoman Designs uses lapis heishi with sterling silver spacers 
and semi-precious stones as focal beads.

The cost of the beads can be quite an investment, yet the beauty of these stones are easily seen when compared to their cheaper competitors.  Unpolished stones like these take on a deep luster as they are worn, absorbing the oils of the skin.  And, to those who also look for the healing properties found in the stones, minerals and fluids have greater exchange values in the raw state.

Jade heishi beads from Afghan Tribal Arts.

The bigger stones usually take center stage over smaller, simpler ones.  Yet, examine Anita's necklaces closely and look at how she uses the tiny heishi beads to emphasize the larger focal ones.  Glass seed beads, a much cheaper option, would also look fine, but don't you think that these natural heishis complement the larger beads perfectly?  Artists like Anita help us see these components in a new way, illustrating how an assortment of stones can be made into wonderful wearable art!

Deerwoman Designs also makes great use of tribal pendants.  I have listed a few, but have several more in line, waiting for their turn.  For example, this Turkman pendant would be quite the eye catcher as the main jewel on a beaded necklace:

Turkman pendant from Afghan Tribal Arts.
A gazelle, once abundant in Afghanistan, carved into turquoise.

A Turkman pendant adorns this strand of mixed 
stones by Deerwoman Designs.

Afghan Tribal Arts has a website with samples of beads that are usually in stock.  Go take a look and if you see something you really like, send me a request.  Copy and paste the photo into an email so that I can have a visual.  Abdul makes regular stops by my house and if he has the beads you want on his van, I can add them on to the Etsy selection.  We have decided that instead of adding a shopping cart to his website, we would use Etsy as the retail platform.  If you have a tax id # and want to buy in quantities, you can also send me wholesale requests and I will pass those on to him.  (My email is on the top right hand corner of this blog.)

A beautiful lapis lazuli necklace by 

Deerwoman Designs has a retail store on Artisans Market and on Etsy.  You can also follow her through her blog.



Monday, November 16, 2009

Print Your Own Fabric with Karma Kraft!

Have you ever wanted to design your own fabric?  I've thought of many ideas that I would have liked to explore, but never really researched it.  I received this email today, introducing Karma Kraft, just such a printing operation.  There is no minimum yardage requirement and the prices and quality seemed fair.  They also offer a variety of fabrics, including organic cotton and silks.  The only downside that I saw is that they are a North Carolina operation (formerly a center for producing textiles in the United States) operating out of China.  I would have been even more excited if they were a US operation...

The email is reprinted below:

New Website Allows Users To Design Their Own Custom Fabrics and Patterns.
KarmaKraft.com proving popular for novice crafters, professional designers and more.

(Raleigh, North Carolina) – It’s a unique online service that has been used to create custom fabric for innovative clothing, pillows, wall art, handbags & purses, bedding, table linens and even surfboards. KarmaKraft.com is a design-oriented digital fabric printing company that allows anyone to upload their own fabric design online to create digitally printed 58-inch custom fabrics. 

“You design it, we print it,” says KarmaKraft.com founders Susan Lu and Scott Jeffreys - in three simple steps:
1) Upload the design to www.KarmaKraft.com
2) Select the desired material or product you want
3) Purchase as much or as little of the custom fabric as needed

What makes KarmaKraft.com different and unique?

KarmaKraft.com eliminates the costly set-up fees and minimums that are imposed by traditional printing methods. KarmaKraft.com also eliminates the need to understand Photoshop or other advanced computer-aided design (CAD) systems to get a design printed. Upcoming designers, homemakers, small business owners, and graphic artists now have the ability to print their own design with no color limitations, on a wide variety of fabric qualities such as cotton, linen, silk and more.
KarmaKraft.com can help anyone from novice crafters to professional designers create their own signature designs. They even offer custom cut and sew services to make items like pillows, pet beds, scarves, tablecloths or personal apparel and more -- all with custom-designed fabric. KarmaKraft.com even offers a “Designer Gallery” under the “Fab Favs” section of the site where designers can post their fabrics designs: http://karmakraft.com/fabfavs.aspx
KarmaKraft.com uses reactive dyes for their cotton, linen and silk qualities and disperse dyes for the polyester. Most digital printing companies just use textile pigment dyes for their product. Printing with reactive and disperse dyes makes the fabric more vivid in color, washable and softer in hand than other digital printing companies offering pigment dyed fabrics.
The KarmaKraft.com custom fabrics range from $20 - $32 per yard and there is no minimum order requirement. KarmaKraft.com’s professional cutting and sewing services range from $10 - $18.
For more information go to: www.KarmaKraft.com


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Toms Shoes: Buy a Pair and They GIVE a Pair!

Need a new pair of shoes?  How about a comfy pair that will also serve a good cause?  Toms Shoes modeled their slippers on traditional alpagartas indigenous to South America.  The story goes like this:

In 2006 an American traveler, Blake Mycoskie, befriended children in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet. Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need. One for One. Blake returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff later that year with 10,000 pairs of shoes made possible by caring TOMS customers.

Since our beginning, TOMS has given over 150,000* pairs of shoes to children in need through the One for One model. Because of your support, TOMS plans to give over 300,000 pairs of shoes to children in need around the world in 2009.
Our ongoing community events and Shoe Drop Tours allow TOMS supporters and enthusiasts to be part of our One for One movement. Join us.

Blake talks about how the idea came to him:

Similar slippers have been standards throughout the world.  We know that they are comfortable.  Our feet like them!  And, not only is Toms helping barefoot people around the world get some basic, comfy shoes, the materials they use also help follow green practices.  They use recycled plastics and natural materials like hemp.

Toms shoes!  Attractive footwear with a social mission!
Visit their website to shop and learn more.

People like Blake give testimony to the difference one person can make when they commit themselves to address basic needs people have.  We cannot all make such a huge impact, yet we can all participate by sharing the good news and encouraging others to join in.  Blake can only make this impact because thousands of others have seen the vision and participated through their purchases, volunteer work and vocal support.  Kudos to all of you at Toms Shoes!

Toms Shoes is all over the place!  Find them on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Afghan Hands: Fashion Meets Economic Development in Kabul

Afghan Hands, and embroidery project, 
works with women in Kabul and Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

A friend of mine sent me an email about a BBC challenge which will award $20.000 plus publicity to a group that shows innovation and economic development at a grass roots level.  One of the groups nominated for these awards is Afghan Hands, an embroidery project that works with women in Afghanistan:

Afghan Hands was started by Matin Maulawizada, native of Kabul who has found great success in the fashion world as a make-up artist and as a cosmetics science expert for Neutrogena.  As I clicked around the website and blog, I was struck that Matin is one of the rare souls who can gracefully breach this immense divide our world suffers between the rich and the poor, the educated and the illiterate, the wasteful and the hungry.  How many of us can truly walk between these two worlds and both retain a sense of dignity while embracing the humanity of such different social situations?  It appears that Matin has this gift.  His writing is humble and honest and his vision for the women in Afghanistan is both realistic and empathetic.  Here is how he describes the mission of Afghan Hands:

Afghan Hands teaches skills to help Afghan widows gain independence, literacy, and a livable wages. At our centers in and around Kabul, women learn to create embroidered shawls and scarves, and the exquisite embroidery they make connects them to a wider world.

The centers are places to gather, study, and work. We pay the women to attend classes in the morning and embroider in the afternoon. Without this project, they could not educate themselves. Through Afghan Hands, they leave the walls of their compounds and attend seminars on basic human, legal, and religious rights. They prepare for work as free women do elsewhere in the world. This way, no one will ever imprison them in the name of law, honor, or religion.

We are a nonprofit organization. We are also linked to the Mirmon Orphanage. Our mutual efforts keep expenses as low as possible so that the funds we raise go to women and children.

In the future, we hope to establish small parks and playgrounds for children who now live in areas devastated by wars, drought, and environmental damage. We envision green havens where words of encouragement and hope are shared.

For now, Afghan women, by their own hands, are transforming their lives. This is our mission. Thank you for your interest in them and in their one-of-a-kind handmade pieces.

The main product lines produced by these women are stunning embroidered shawls, both cotton and pashmina wool, many of which find inspiration in the Suzani motifs traditional in Uzbekistan.  The embroidery is impeccable.  The shawls range from around $150-$1000.  One of the things I really appreciate about the project is this choice to produce quality pieces instead of churning out chotchkies that might be more easily accessible to the general public, but which would not showcase the expertise these women have with their embroidery skills.  Projects like this do a great service to preserving traditional skills while providing the technical assistance to reach an audience that can support quality, handmade embroidery.  Here are a couple of samples that can be found on their website:

Pashmina embroidered shawls, available at Afghan Hands.

 Crinkled cotton shawl by Afghan Hands

Of course, what delighted me the most, was that the women are paid to both study in the morning and embroider in the afternoon.  I am a firm believer that education is the way out of poverty.  Women who can educate themselves have a much greater access to finding their voice in all areas of their life: socially, politically, and as full members of their family and social units.

 Women studying, Afghan Hands.

I often struggle with justifying my years of work in the handicraft field.  With so much hunger in the world, ecological disasters looming, and critical need on so many levels, I sometimes wonder why I spend my time and energy in marketing things that nobody really needs.  Yet, I find redemption over and over again when projects like Afghan Hands give testimony to the healing power these crafts have in the communities where they are made.  I believe that we need the physical beauty these crafts bring into our lives, the connection we can have with the people who made them.  But, the actual process of making things also serves as a therapy which can help rebuild the broken lives in war torn areas like Kabul.  People like Matin are the best peace ambassadors we can ask for.  They open the paths of communication between people who would never have had a connection otherwise.  The women purchasing the shawls learn about the women who made them, and the women who made them likewise expand their world views in learning about markets, design, and value.  Self-esteem grows.  We are no longer strangers to each other.

Visit Afghan Hands, support them in whatever way you can (they also accept donations), and vote for them in the BBC challenge.

All of the photos in this post belong to Afghan Hands and are on their website.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New Banjara Patches Available at 10% Off!!!

New Banjara patches are in!  Get a 10% discount on my website!

These patches are wonderful as you can incorporate them into larger textiles, attach them to bags, jean jackets, hats, and other accessories, or frame them as a small textile sample.  The smaller ones are about 3x4 inches while larger ones can get up to 5x5 inches.  All are hand embroidered by women who were traditionally nomadic in India.  I get them from a supplier there, sight unseen, and she usually includes some newer ones and some older ones.  You can tell by the embroidery thread that was used and by the wear on the back of the patches.

Shishas are low quality glass mirrors that are used in Indian embroidery.  The story goes that they became popular after the Taj Mahal was built.  The Banjara also believe that they have protective powers and protect the wearer against the evil eye.  I have written a couple of articles about the Banjara here before.  They are genetically proven to be the ancestors of the Roma (also known as gypsies).  Click here to see those articles.

Instructions for purchasing the patches are on my website.   Basically, you email me with the ones you want, I check for availability and send you a total and you pay via Pay Pal.  I will start listing them on Etsy next week and once they are in the shop, you will have to go through their shopping cart to purchase them.

I apologize for the images.  I have a new camera and am still learning how to use it.  This batch of photos came out a bit muddy and fuzzy, but the colors are very close to the actual piece.  Well, if you like these patches and want some, you better go take a look quickly!  I usually sell about half of them with the first three days of posting them on my site.  Otherwise, you will find what is left in my Etsy store.



Sunday, November 1, 2009

You make stuff. Are you an artist or a crafter?

My friend Neddy Astudillo's self portrait.

Ah....  the big can of worms!  What is art?  What is craft? 

Recently, several discussions about this have made their way into my little world and I felt compelled to bring the problem into the public arena.  As people who make stuff and try to make a living at it, we often run into trouble when we try to define what we do to our audiences and peers.  "Artists" are often snobs who look down their noses on "crafters".  Why the big divide between people who should have common concerns about materials, marketing, and achieving a receptive audience?  I believe that the main struggle has to do with money.  "Art" has traditionally commanded a higher price point for similar work and skills than "Craft".  As an example, a quilt made by an Amish woman might be priced at a tenth of what a quilter in the fiber art world might charge for work that is less skilled and that took less time to make.  How can that be fair?

A mola blouse worn by the Kuna Indians 
could be classified as "folk art" or as a craft.

First, let's take a look at the words, art and craft.  Craft originally referred to a specialized skill.  This could include writing, blacksmithing, doctoring, or any professional activity.  You could excel at your craft or fail at it.  In time, crafts became synonymous with handwork: embroidery, carving, sewing, pottery and other activities that refer to the making of functional and decorative objects.  Art, on the other hand, traditionally refers to work that somehow taps into the soul, that has a muse.  It is expected that art is a journey of the spirit that explores originality.  So, a writer or musician who has this muse is as much an artist as the painter.  In the last century, access to arenas that had been traditionally inherited or mentored became available to anyone who was curious.  Books, videos, kits, ready supplies and workshops all made it easy for the novice to experiment and compete with the traditional keepers of the arts and the crafts.  Flooding the market confused the words.  Arts and Crafts became lumped together as one category.  This created tension as now anyone could be an artist, anyone could practice the craft.

Paint by numbers: are they art or craft or what?  
They have become highly collectible.  

My background has been a long journey of working with ethnic crafts along with my own thirst for following my muse.  I have witnessed the disappearance of many traditional crafts around the world as wars, famine and industrialization push people out of their cottage industries into formal occupations dictated by their local economies.  As I struggle with learning new skills and experiment with producing my own body of work, I am always humbled by the techniques and creativity I see in the textiles I sell.  I will never be as good as these women are who made these embroideries in some far off village, yet their work is sold for peanuts, while I can determine that my inferior work has a certain value based on hours worked, materials and originality.  This discussion of what is art and the value of craft has international repercussions and also boils down to that basic question of price point.

There have been some attempts at resolving this problem of value by adding words to art and craft that specialize the product.  So, now we have "fine art", "folk art", "outsider art", "fiber art", "abstract art", "wearable art", and so on.  All of those extra words increase the price point of what was otherwise just "art". We also have "functional craft", "designer craft", "studio craft", "American craft", "handicraft", and "country craft", which also increase or decrease the market value of the product.  We are now experiencing a revolution in the United States that embraces all things hand made as a rejection of the cheap commercialized products available in large retailers like Walmart.  This discussion encompasses all of the crafts including food, housing, and transportation.  Getting back to basics and having intimate knowledge of many crafts has made the "Renaissance" man or woman into a superhero who can go into the woods, drag out the trees that nature felled on its own, build a hut, make rain into the water supply, grow food, spin wool, and have a virtual zero carbon footprint on the environment.  This modern Thoreau will also have an overactive muse who will help him or her write, compose, and make everything into spirit-filled canvases.  Thus, the true artist.

I could go on and on, but let me share a few vignettes and that make a conclusion.

In Caruaru, Brazil, a whole town mass produces little clay figurines that were started by folk artist, Mestre Vitalino.  The video below is a short documentary on Vitalino.  It's in Portuguese, but has good photos of his work.  The town recently celebrated the 100 years since he was born.  So, this guy developed an interesting style in clay, became sought after and collected, and the local people wanted a piece of the action and now replicate his work over and over and over.  It is fine that they do this because they are giving continuity to both a craft medium and recording local folklore that is rapidly disappearing.  I tried to import a bunch of these clay pieces, but they were low fire and I lost about 30% of what I bought due to breakage in transportation.  But, while I was there, I was wandering around through the different houses, deciding what to buy.  I happened into one where this little old man was making huge sculptures of bizarre mythological figures.  Many were over six feet high and they would be impossible to transport.  Each had a handwritten story attached as these were all images he had seen in his dreams.  Conclusion:  Vitalino and the crazy old man both had muses.  They are artists.  The villagers mass producing the clay figures are artisans or crafters.  Vitalino and the old guy deserve more recognition and more money because of their vision.

When I first lived in Chicago, I had many friends who were studying at the Art Institute, so I went to lots of art openings in those days.  Almost every senior show was peppered with photos, collages, sculptures or drawings of vaginas.  If you were a female art student, it was a given that the vagina had to be an "in your face" subject.  It got very old fast.  Conclusion:  The art world can push an original subject into mass production, thus losing its value.

At a fair trade conference several years ago, a whiny woman from South America (Bolivia, I think), got up to testify that the artisans in her community were like everybody else.  They were grateful for work, but what they really wanted to be were doctors and lawyers and teachers.  They wanted nice houses, cars, televisions and all the amenities of the developed world.  Conclusion:  Making stuff is just another job for many people.  The market has a demand for it, but there is no muse there.  This is craft and it can be very good, but can also be shoddy and of inferior quality.

There are all those issues of child labor and sweatshops.

I never really liked Picasso until I visited his museum in Barcelona.  Surrounded by his body of work and following the processes that he explored, I was overwhelmed by his genius.  I still do not like a lot of his later work, but I understood why he made it big.  Conclusion: Art demands a body of work that shows growth, experimentation and maturity.

The Zulu of South Africa make wonderful baskets that are very similar to Navajo baskets.  Technically, they equal each other, but the Zulu baskets sell for a fraction in value to the Navajo.  Why?  The art community has elevated Navajo traditional work to art status.  Native Americans who still employ ancient techniques are relatively few and are considered masters while most other Native American crafts have resorted to mass production for tourist consumption.  The Zulu basket makers still have their village structures intact and are capable of maintaining production standards because they have community support.  Conclusion:  Art is subjective and changes depending on availability.  What is now considered a handicraft might be art as that culture is disseminated.

Is this Zulu woman an artist?
Visit Zanzibar Tribal Art for more info on Zulu weavers. 

That's probably enough to get some reactions from you, the reader.  Am I an artist?  It's easier to say that to people than to go into the tiresome descriptions of how I sell online, have a bunch of odd jobs, and jump around between what some might consider art and others will define as craft.  If I say that I am an artist, it will be assumed that I am odd.  The IRS considers us to be whatever we make our money at.  So, I am an online retailer as that is where I make the bulk of my living.  Several years ago, I heard a statistic that said that less than 2% of people who had their master's degrees in art ended up in an art related field. Most of us do something else to pay our bills and explore the muse in our free time.  But, there is a spiritual element to my process, whether making a hat or a quilt.  When I am engaged in the process, the rest of the world falls away and I am the closest I can get to a state which others describe as prayer or meditation.  The end result is not as important to me as the actual making of stuff.

I think I'm an artist because I am odd.
(Rachel Biel Taibi having fun with a photo editing program)

I find this discussion especially frustrating because in the long run, I don't really care about these labels.  All of it is subjective, the market is whimsical, and what I think is really important is that people are excited about making stuff.  We are so far removed from where things come from (food, clothing, machines, furniture) that anything we can do to try to relate to the materials around us (paper, pen, ink, wood, paint, dirt) is a good thing in my book.  But, my frustration comes in wading through all the junk to get to the good stuff.  I can't sell any new, fair trade items on Etsy because it is considered a commercial product.  Yet, someone can sew a sequin on a pair of jeans and sell it as handmade.  I find this extremely limiting on a non-juried international site.  It creates a divide between those of us who are creating handmade stuff, whether art or craft, but may not have computer skills.  People like me do a great service to those who do not speak English or who cannot access larger markets.  I can sell vintage ethnic crafts, but the artisans who made them are dead, so they don't benefit from it.  Language and perceptions of what these words mean do have a powerful impact on not only how we perceive the "stuff", but also what opportunities we grant to the people who made them.

So, this is my story and I'm sticking to it!  Let the food fight begin!



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