“A rug is a work of art,” says FBMI director on project that supports Afghan weavers
DUBAI: Four months ago the world saw how the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan after 20 years.
“It was unimaginable that such a thing would happen overnight,” Farshied Jabarkhyl, whose parents fled Afghanistan in 1979-80 after the Soviet invasion, told Arab News. Jabarkhyl was born in London and has lived in the United Arab Emirates for 15 years.
“I am really grateful to have the opportunity to be abroad,” he told Arab News. “I think it’s more difficult for the Afghans there, and that’s why I personally want to get involved to try to support them.”
Jabarkhyl is the director of the Fatima bint Mohamed Bin Zayed Initiative, which enables women artisans in rural areas of Afghanistan to achieve economic independence by producing the country’s most famous export: carpets.
Since its inception in 2010, the IMF has employed more than 8,000 multi-ethnic Afghans, providing them with essential social services ranging from health checks to free schooling for their children.
“Being a part of this project is close to my heart,” said Jabarkhyl. Some of the women concerned are disabled, others are widows and sole breadwinners. “Women have faced many challenges. It has been 40 years of continuous warfare, ”he noted, adding that women’s progress in media, politics and journalism over the past 20 years has now been lost almost instantly.
Carpet weaving has been part of Afghan culture for centuries; a form of craftsmanship passed down from generation to generation. It is most common in the northwestern part of Afghanistan, bordering the weaving epicenters of Iran and Uzbekistan. It takes focus, dexterity and attention to detail.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds,” Jabarkhyl explained. “It’s something women should be proud of, and it’s what we try to show the world – the value of rugs, the effort that goes into them and the history behind them, that many unfortunately people tend to be lacking. A rug takes months to weave, it’s lovingly made in a house by people with a very strong history behind them. It’s a work of art that I think needs to be. more appreciated.
It is also apparently considered a culturally acceptable occupation for Afghan women, who do not have the same labor rights as their male counterparts.
“Afghan women unfortunately cannot get to the workplace, especially in the villages,” Jabarkhyl said. “We have chosen a form of employment where we give women the looms and materials in their homes, and the men work outside.” The social process, in which two or three women work together on the same carpet, begins with the collection of sheep wool from nomads and shepherds. The wool is hand spun into yarn, which is dyed with natural pigments derived from fruits and vegetables. The colored material is then distributed to the weavers, who create the hand-woven rugs using the looms provided.
The final product is shipped from FBMI’s Afghan processing centers in Dubai – to the showroom (and social enterprise) of the organization’s Dubai Design District, Zuleya (meaning ‘carpet’ in the Emirati dialect), thus following the Zuleya concept: “From sheep to store”. At an auction held with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a selection of the weavers’ unique rugs – intricately woven floral and geometric patterns in a plethora of colors and shapes – was on display at the Downtown Design of This year.
The IMF team hopes to shed light on Afghanistan’s national treasure amid a prolonged period of political uncertainty. “The problem with Afghan culture is that it has never imposed itself in a positive way,” Jabarkhyl said. “People tend to associate Afghanistan with Iran or Pakistan. But the national language is different and there are different tribes; Afghanistan has a very strong heritage and culture stretching back thousands of years. When people hear “Afghanistan” they think of war, but it has a very rich identity.
The big question, however, is whether the recent change of government will hamper IMF operations and other initiatives in Afghanistan. Jabarkhyl admitted the transition has not been smooth as flights between the UAE and Afghanistan have been cut off, forcing alternative routes to import the rugs to be found. People on the ground in Afghanistan, on the other hand, are understandably more focused on the safety of women than on sustaining production.
“It has been difficult,” Jabarkhyl said. “But our work continues. We must continue. “