Tribal and Nomadic Weaving and Storytelling in Iran

Weaving the world over has the power to not only connect and reinforce our myriad ties, but to also strengthen the warp and weft of memory in communities that are rapidly changing and in some cases vanishing. Our instincts as makers and storytellers are rediscovered through hands on explorations in craft – with a déja vu of sorts when the qualities of an object remind us of a former experience or point of connection.

For the tribal weavers of Iran, weaving provides a multigenerational ‘key’ for cultural and historic roadmaps, a tactile manifestation of Persian identity, and the symbolic layering of a process that is intrinsically linked to place. The role that natural fiber and specifically, fiber in the environment, plays in the landscape of Iran is vast. I first discovered this phenomenon when introduced to contemporary Iranian artists working in both rural and urban communities. Their practice of using fiber and local, natural materials as tools for crafting ‘agency’ was completely in sync with what other environmental artists were doing globally. The Persian New Art Collective as well as the work of sculptor and art educator, Dr. Ahmad Nadalian, a long distance collaborator of mine, provided evidence that a genuine concern for the preservation of textiles and the environment shares a universal language and vision.

It is in this spirit of correspondence that I am excited to share the current project of Iranian-American textile designer, Nazanin (‘Naz’) Sadr Azodi.  Anamnesis is Naz’s timely initiative to document her research and exhibition of a nomadic carpet weaving collaboration with five Iranian tribal women. This cultural preservation initiative aims to “restore the weavers as creators as opposed to manual laborers by reinstating the power of symbols and heritage in storytelling.”

The Anamnesis exhibition will be presented in both Tehran and NYC during late 2019 with expected travel to other cities across the United States in 2020. The traditional, though uniquely personal, rugs created by the five weavers will be accompanied by a short film documenting their creative process along with scenes from tribal and nomadic communities in Iran. A limited edition book showcasing the work of each weaver, their final woven piece, and memories brought to life via the power of threads will also be published.

“A socially conscious project tied to my love of Iran, community, and textiles. The urgency I feel in highlighting this craft, and the women who master it, is not only to prevent it from vanishing but to also form a collective of weavers that can reinstate the magic and the lore in a practice that’s an important part of Iranian culture. Using the power of recollection I hope to ignite in them an intrinsic desire that has always been part of the Iranian weaving tradition, to tell stories.” – Naz Azodi, creative director of Anamnesis

The possibilities for documenting and preserving tribal and nomadic weaving tradtions is at a vital crossroad where information about tradition, place, and technique is rapidly vanishing. Carpets created by today’s nomadic weavers often include symbols that are drawn from myths and folklore, and are in turn handed down from generation to generation. Specific motifs that are embedded in rug patterns and designs are deemed to be powerful and also work in conjunction with the specific knots of hand knotted weavings that are created as talismans of sorts for the nomads themselves.

Naz Azodi’s previous extenisive travel in Iran, primarly during 2018, allowed her to lay the groundwork for this current phase of the Anamnesis project. Numerous interviews with scholars and regional artisans allowed her to examine more closely how authentic Persian carpets are indeed endangered and why the weavers themselves, the keepers of this knowledge, continue to rely on the weaving process as means to hold on to memories, traditional craft methods, as well as a connection to place. In addition to sanctions and global competition from machine-made rug suppliers in China and Iran (*referenced in a 2016 New York Times article on nomadic weavers near Shiraz), the naturally dyed, handwoven carpets of tribal and nomadic weavers are currently threatened by a lack of value and understanding of the sacredness of this entire undertaking.

The five tribal weavers that Naz has chose to work with will be weaving a memory or story that they have already shared with her and deem to be personally significant. It is unusual for the weavers to have a platform for exploring and weaving their own personal projects, so this is something that is critical to the Anamnesis outreach mission. One can read more about the various phases of this creative collaborative process on the campaign page, but each woman will have the opportunity to participate in a two to three week workshop with Naz and draft a letter of agreement about the work created and the fair wage that they will receive as compensation throughout.

For those of us who would love to travel to Iran or who simply have a curiosity about how weaving traditions connect us all, this is a very special opportunity to participate in a dialogue that transcends borders and the perceived limitations of communication. My dialogue with Iranian environmental artists continues to this day, and this bridge building effort was aided in part by a determination to bring our dovetailing ideas and concerns to a wider audience. The storytelling and documentation component of Anamnesis very much reminds me of this spirit, and it is one that I believe might only be reinforced by a curiousity for what unites us, regardless of whether we have experienced the place or memory firsthand.

For further information on Anamnesis, visit here.


Abigail Doan is an environmental artist and reseacher with a specific focus on ways that handmade artifacts and objects might provide prompts or solutions for improving design, environmental restoration, and cultural understanding. She has also worked as a researcher for documentary film and an art director for multi-media projects on archaeological and historic sites. She can be followed on Instagram here.

This article was sponsored by the Haemimont Foundation, a corporation engaged in not-for-profit activities for the public good, primarily in the areas of education and cultural preservation. Their outreach initiatives include educational grants and awards, cultural publications, and global exhibitions highlighting historical artifacts and heritage traditions. Learn more here.


All featured images were taken by Nazanin Sadr Azod in the following regions: Ashkhaneh, Bojnurd, Firoozabad, and Josheqan Iran.



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