12 January 2018
In September 2017, under the Crafting Futures programme the British Council supported 6 delegates from Asia to participate in the Making Futures conference at Plymouth College of Art. Making Futures is a biennial research platform exploring contemporary craft and maker movements as ‘change agents’ in 21st century society. Zolaykha Sherzad, founder of the Afghan fashion label Zarif Design, presented a paper at Making Futures. Final papers will be presented in the Making Futures journal in May 2018. Here we hear more about her experience and perspecives.
Zolaykha Sherzad is the founder and creative director of Zarif Design. Zolaykha trained as an architect, at the School of Architecture in Lausanne, Switzerland before practicing in Switzerland, Japan and Newe York. In 2000 she returned to her native Afghanistan to be part of the reconstruction process. It was then she founded Zarif Design, a business with the mission of reviving the traditional skills in textile and tailoring in Afghanistan.
You recently presented a paper at the Making Futures conference in response to their theme ‘Maker Cultures.’ You spoke about the power of craft and the creative industries as a vehicle to bring change and build peace, especially for women’s empowerment. Can you tell us more about your paper?
Within the context of war the creative process is the most essential practice to maintain and sustain. A whole generation has only known war and destruction, and the need to rebuild and innovation is vital for the society to build its basis.
The craft sector is key as it bypasses the technologies that have been damaged and destroyed by the war. The handmade is still available and can be revived with some minimum investment.
It also provides for the women to be part of the reconstruction of the society once again as they have primarily been kept out of the society and constrained to only their homes. Half of the population is female, and their integration is essential in rebuilding the country.
Zarif Design is mainly working with women in building and broadening their skillsets, but also creating employment opportunities for them in the textiles and fashion sector. The skills training also contributes to the restoration of of their sense of agency and dignity.
Why do you feel it was important for Afghanistan to be represented in this discussion?
Afghanistan has been at the centre of the news for years, but through the lens of war and terrorism. We can bring the changes needed locally, and through participation in events like this we can create a positive awareness of the Afghan people and their lives beyond the politics and the news.
There is a rich cultural heritage that needs to be redefined and transformed to accommodate the current needs.
What was your perception on the current discussions around craft and making practices in the UK and globally?
It’s a time where designers and consumers are interested in not only the design and product but the makers and the conditions. As a designer I believe it’s important through our practice that we bring a certain awareness on current issues from sustainability to ecology. The craft sector and making practice can respond to the current concerns and challenges.
It is through the work I do in Afghanistan I have been able to empower women and men in their lives economically but also personally.
What are some of the major discussions happening in Afghanistan right now around craft?
The current challenges in the craft sector in Afghanistan are the demand and market locally and internationally. There are increasingly imported goods on the market from neighboring countries such as Turkey, Pakistan and China. People do not have the economic power to purchase locally made crafts or goods.
The imported items are very often synthetic. There is great need in rebuilding cultural identity and bringing awareness about the ethical value of the goods Afghans consume or use.