Archive for the ‘Weavers’ Category

Artist profile of Michgan Hozain from ‘Weavings of War’

November 3, 2006

In the catalogue to the exhibition curated by Ariel Zeitlin Cooke “Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory” (written with Marsha MacDowell and available here) is referenced an artist profile of Michgan Hozain, a woman of Hazara origin who teaches weaving and monitors rug quality at a not-for-profit women’s centre in Kabul. The profile is drawn from video interviews conducted by artist and Professor Michael Schnorr in Afghanistan in early 2004.

Michgan Hozain and her son.  Photograph by Michael Schnorr.

Caption: “Like most Afghan weavers, Michgan has a loom at home where she can attend to her son and other domestic duties while she weaves. Photo by Michael Schnorr.”

This account confirms that many men learnt weaving in refugee camps. Michgan’s husband, Merza, had been a weaver before he lived in a Peshawar camp, where (suggests Ariel) it may be that Merza learnt the Turkmen-style knot technique he subsequently taught Michgan. The profile continues:

Some weavers of Afghan war rugs, including Michgan’s own aunts, seem to be expressing in their work their own memories of war and will tell you the exact incidents they are depicting: “This is when the mosque in my village was destroyed.” Michgan, however, says she weaves her war rugs “because they will sell”. When she had been weaving for a few years, her family discovered that war rugs would fetch more money in the marketplace, and so her husband designed a few for them to make, with excellent results: “We sold the [war] rugs in the bazaar to the people, commanders, for example, who were coming from foreign coutnries at that time.” she recalls. The centre where Michgan works keeps a similar focus on profits: they churn out a certain number of war rugs every year, buying them from the women who participate on a commissioned or semi-comissioned basis. Merza continues to weave alongside his wife but says he is trying to find more lucrative work.”

One of Michgan's rugs. Photograph by Martha Cooper.

Caption: “Rug. Michgan Hozain (Hazara), Afghanistan, 2004, Wool and cotton, 16 x 27 inches. Collection of City Lore. Photo by Martha Cooper. “9/11″ rugs appeared a few months after the World Trade Center was destroyed in 2001. Some Americans have speculated that Afghan weavers were rejoicing at the disaster but Hozain says she weaves them for sale because she finds a market for them.”

“Neither Hozain wants their son to learn to weave:”We want him to go to school and live a better life than us,” says Michgan. In fact, she informs us, “Whenever somebody comes to visit the carpets in our home or our centre we explain to them ‘Send your daughters to be educated [to do something] besides carpet-weaving.’ It is our message to them.”

We thank Ariel Zeitlin Cooke for her permission to reproduce this material.

Afghan refugee rugmakers in 1985 National Geographic magazine

September 26, 2006


At a local charity bookfair this weekend I found a copy of the June 1985 National Geographic magazine featuring the famous cover of the Afghan girl Sharbat Gula.

Debra Denker’s article, “Along Afghanistan’s War-torn Frontier”, is available online, but without the photographs by Steve McCurry, taken in 1984.

We’ve reproduced the images and captions below:


Carpet merchants, Turkoman refugees from Afghanistan’s north parade their wares along the stalls of Peshawar’s Qisssa Khawani Bazaar, the famed “storytellers’ bazaar”. Lacking stalls of their own, the Turkomans keep moving to find their customers. Many of the Turkomans have returned to join their fellows in the mujahideen, becoming some of the more fierce warriors and battle-smart commanders. Others prefer to remain in Pakistan, pursuing their skills as carpetmakers, the trade of their ancestors.”


“At Swabi refugee camp near Mardan wool is dyed and dried. Thereafter a carpet begins to take shape on a loom.”


“Carpetmaking is a family affair, with everybody participating around the horizontal loom. It can take three months to make a wool rug, a little longer for one of silk. The majority of the carpets are for prayer, but some larger ones are made for use in homes. Thousands of Turkoman refugees equal thousands of carpets – in addition to those locally produced. The Pakistani weavers feel they are being hurt by Turkomans, who pay no taxes and no shop rents, selling their wares in the markets.”

Given women’s traditional involvement in weaving, it’s interesting that the “everybody” around the loom includes only men. This may be a function of the difficulty of photographing Afghan women that McCurry describes in “Arms Against Fury: Magnum Photographers in Afghanistan” at page 131:

“You could never meet your best friend’s wife, or even his sister. He could be your best friend, and you would never meet his wife. There was always a separate room in the house for guests, ad I was never in contact on any level with the women. If you saw a woman in the village, she would be working or caring for the children. You were allowed a single glance … There was no chance to take photographs. You could photograph a young girl running around playing with her friends in the village, but there was never any contact at all with adolescent and adult women. Just none.”

Arms Against Fury is available online, but there is no direct link – from here, click on “books”.

Steve McCurry also has a web page which includes an Afghanistan gallery.

Spinning and weaving

September 19, 2006

“Vasco Pyjama” is the internet name used by an Australian woman who until very recently worked for an international non government organisation (NGO) in Afghanistan. She wrote a wonderful journal of her experiences called Pyjama Samsara, where she is now blogging about her new posting in Indonesia.

Given our project, our interest was piqued by a fascinating discussion considering the physical and economic outcomes of carpet weaving on women in a Hazara area in Afghanistan. We’ve taken excerpts of the posts below – click the link at the end of each excerpt for the full entry.

We have been looking for income generation or livelihood opportunities that we can promote for village women. We don’t like carpet weaving, as it is exploitative and causes eye problems. We don’t like gellim weaving, as we did that before, and could not find a market for it. But now, we are thinking… perhaps spinning yarn?

The spinning wheel design was sourced from a museum in France! And then reproduced by a carpenter in Afghanistan. The NGO provides the spinning wheel (for USD12, a third of the USD36 that it costs to make) and the raw wool. Then the women make the margin (price of yarn – cost of wool). Currently, the NGO does all the purchasing and marketing, but they are intending to form women’s associations to do that. (Click here for full entry.)

Hazara spinner

In response to a question from a reader, she elaborated:

… we have to find a women’s livelihood activity for the long winter months (six months over here). Women now typically either do nothing, or those who are lucky weave carpets. But carpet weaving is hard work. It involves sitting crouched next to two or three others, and having to look in the dim light. Many people have shoulder and neck problems as well as eye problems at the end of it.

But the fate for those who don’t weave the carpets is worse. They do not earn any money and are very poor.

Weaving gellim is better ergonomically than carpets. But it pays less. Spinning pays the most. Also, it does not require you to look at the wool/yarn. You could even spin if you were blind. And you can stretch whilst spinning. And it is not small movements like it is for carpet weaving, or even crochet or knitting. I tried out the machine and the pedal is very sensitive. It does not require any strength, and works when you tilt it forwards and backwards. Also, the woman had a cushion, but we asked her to move positions (she was by the window) as the light was not good there.

Basically, it has less ergonomic problems than even tailoring has. It is the best option there is for now. Also, the women (and even children) spend the summer months doing very very very hard farm labour, like digging potatoes, carrying wood, carrying big bales of hay. When I shake their hands, I am stunned at how rough and calloused they are. They regard even carpet weaving as easy work …

Another thing to take into consideration that the poverty here is extreme. One in four children die before they reach the age of five. One in six women will die in childbirth. Most women do not reach the age of 45. Hunger is extreme. Having this little extra money means that families have fewer hungry days in a year. A few children live a little longer. Girls are married off a bit later. (Click here for full entry.)

Thanks to Vasco Pyjama for her permission to use her text and image.