BY ANNIE WATERMAN
Creative expression in Afghanistan
In the ancient city of Kandahar, Khamak embroidery is a trademark. It is an ancient art form, known for its fine needlework, silk threads, and intricate design. Afghan women stitch their hopes and dreams as quietly as they live their lives.
Rangina Hamidi, a women’s advocate and founder of Kandahar Treasure has a personal commitment to help lead change in Afghanistan. Her organization is run and operated by a group of approximately 350 women who design and sell traditional Khamak embroidered textiles. She is the first woman to create a profit generating enterprise in Afghanistan, introducing this traditional skill of embroidery to the world market.
Inspired by Islamic geometric design and floral motifs, Khamak is considered to be one of the world’s finest embroidery techniques. The geometric shapes signify natural imagery, such as flowers, mountains, trees, and leaves. This practice involves the counting of threads of the fabric, opposed to copying and drawing patterns. All designs come from the imagination, using cotton fabric and silk threads. “It is somehow restricted, geometric, stable rather ‘inside’ than ‘outside’ which,” Hamidi says, “perfectly reflects the life of women from the region.”
During the days of the Taliban, Khamak embroidery was on the brink of extinction. Women were forced to stay at home and prosecuted for taking part in the economy. Raw materials and stitching needles were difficult to come by, electricity was scarce, and creative expression was repressed. Kandahar Treasure creates economic independence for these women, exposing this art to the outside world. This enterprise is reviving traditional art as well as giving voice to the world through these beautiful pieces.
Walking the streets of Kandahar, you will notice that this embroidery continues to be worn in one’s everyday life. It is used to adorn women’s headscarves, burkas, pants, shirts, table linens, wall hangings, and elaborate wedding trousseaus. Mothers, grandmothers, and elder sisters begin teaching their daughters as young as age five and are considered to be masters by twelve or thirteen. It is a skill that they continue to perfect throughout their lives.
In modest areas, Khamak embroidery is not only created for one’s personal enjoyment but is sometimes a way in which a boy’s in-laws will measure the value of a future bride. A woman is often tested based upon the quality of her work, which may be a deciding factor for marriage. Men in Kandahar desire women who are masters of this art because they act as exhibitors of this work. In other words, it’s a way to show the beauty of one’s wife, relating to status and prestige.
The act of embroidery turns into a spiritual meditation, a place where a woman’s mind and creativity run free. It is often a spiritual escape from the mundane. In areas where women are forced to stay at home, this embroidery gives them a chance to express their inners desire for aesthetic beauty and way to communicate with the rest of the world.
To get more information or purchase these textiles please visit: Global Good Partners-www.globalgoodspartners.org ;KandaharTreasure- www.kandahartreasure.com. To learn more about Khamak textiles, please email US Coordinator, Ms. Stoorai Ayazi email@example.com. Kandahar Treasure will also be attending the upcoming Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July.