NOTE: To get the full story, we encourage you to listen to the episode. The following episode notes serve as a guide, explaining what we cover in each section. Fast forward to hear more about specific topics and sections.
Meet Ramzia and Maryam
Hear Jo and Rachna introduce Ramzia Khourami and Maryam Omar, two women designers living and working in Kabul. Their story and experience is particularly poignant, as Afghanistan is on another threshold of change. Change is on the horizon, and there is uncertainty as to what these changes will mean for the women in Afghanistan.
Ramzia’s approach to Afghan jewellery
It might surprise you to know that in the 1970s, it wasn’t unusual to see women in miniskirts on the streets of Kabul.
Ramzia is humble when describing her work. She’s a woman. She’s a jeweller. She runs her own business. This is rare. Even today.
She showed us some of her pieces while we were talking via Skype, and her work is refined and stunning.
In Afghanistan, Ramzia’s approach is considered contemporary and refreshing. Although she uses traditional tools and techniques, her designs are inspired equally by heritage motifs and modern trends. She also tends to design with silver and gemstones.
She told us that in Afghanistan, most people favour gold – as status symbol and as currency. The majority of the gold jewellry is imported comes from the Middle East, Pakistan and India. While Ramzia’s collections tend to be more popular outside Afghanistan, her work is becoming popular locally too.
Afghanistan & Women
It might surprise you to know that in the 1970s, it wasn’t unusual to see women in miniskirts on the streets of Kabul. In fact, Afghan women received the right of vote in 1919, a year before women were extended this right in the United States. But in Afghanistan, it’s often a one step forward, two steps back scenario.
Women have been granted equal rights only to have them rescinded, and this on-again-off-again cycle corresponds to whether the country is being governed by secular law or Sharia law. Prior to the 1990s, Ramzia told us her mother practiced medicine in Kabul. Maryam’s mother was a school teacher.
When the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1988, the mujahideen and tribal powers began fighting for turf.
Neither faction either was keen to see women in public life. Beginning in roughly 1988 up until the early aughts, women were completely absent from public life. From professional life. From school. Families who had means fled to neighboring countries.
Maryan and Ramzia’s generation received their education in exile. Their return to professional and public life marks an important milestone in Afghanistan’s recent history. Next, we hear Ramzia reflect on what it means to be a woman in her homeland.
To Peshawar, London & back
We’ve had a chance to get to know Ramzia, so how let’s turn to Maryam. Maryam shares her personal experience of leaving Afghanistan as a young girl, first to Peshawar in Pakistan and then to London. A few weeks ago, we interviewed Shoshana Stewart, the CEO of Turquoise Mountain, and we asked her to tell us about her first impressions of Kabul.
So, we thought it fitting to ask Maryam to reflect on what it was like for her when she had to acclimatise to another country and another culture. In this segment, Maryam’s account is touching. The recollections of the train ride to Peshawar, her life in London. The subsequent journey back and her growing fondness for Kabul.
Craft, design & business development
As the Manager of T M’ design center, Maryam’s contribution is invaluable. Artisans and students benefit from Maryam’s formal design background and her insight into western trends. Maryam is a designer, as well. She has designed many of the new carpets in the Turquoise Mountain carpet range including one inspired by 15th century miniature paintings from Herat.
Located in the western Afghanistan, Herat is really a gem – it’s the overland gateway to Iran, the Middle and the Levant and the city has been an important center of intellectual and artistic life in the Islamic world since antiquity. — But I digress. Nowack to Maryam .. She also runs the business development curriculum of the Institute. Let’s hear Maryam tell us more about her role and how she helps artisans like Ramzia approach design and develop business know-how.
Kabul & Afghan bread
In this segment, Ramzia and Maryam talk about Kabul’s charm, Afghan hospitality and their insatiable cravings for Afghan bread!
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Our work in Laos has some parallels to that of Turquoise Mountain. We are also working with a core group of master weavers and training village-based artisans to refine their skills, whilst introducing them to new markets and supporting craft-based livelihoods. You can learn more about the work we do by reading about the Village Weavers Project. Support our artisans by visiting our online shop.