TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Friday, March 6, 2009

Iran: Oil, Textiles, Fear and Some Humor

Mamqan Lotus Embroidery, 7 Zones

Someone I love dearly believes that Iran will nuke the US in the near future. This person is educated, well traveled and a white collar, middle class American. How does one respond to such fears? The media here has successfully created such a dark, foreboding picture of Iran that it's hard to inject some optimism into those who have swallowed the doom pill. I believe that it's much more likely that the US will be the agent of destruction somewhere, sometime, although I am hopeful that an Obama era will be remembered as one of peace.

I believe that fear of a people, all lumped into one pot, comes from lack of contact. My entry into cultures that I don't know is usually through their crafts, especially textiles. That common language of technique, color, texture, function, materials along with the challenges all artisans and artists face in marketing their work makes it easier to connect. It opens new doors that lead to larger social issues and eventually transforms the strange and alien into the familiar.

Most people think of Iran in terms of how it plays the oil game. And, most people will also, at least vaguely, know that some beautiful carpets have come out of this region. In fact, carpets and textile production are third to oil in Iran's exports. Nuts are second. (No pun intended!)

A National Geographic photo of Iranian women weaving a carpet.
Posted by Tehran Times.

Iranica.com has an excellent article that documents the history of textile production in Iran:

"Although Iran’s wool production is large, most of its output is used by the handmade carpet industry, and Iran imports wool for the manufacture of worsted wool fabrics. Iran has 102 commercial wool-spinning mills that produce 24,000 tons of wool yarn each year; its cottage industry produces an equal quantity. Handmade carpets are, next to pistachios, Iran’s most important non-oil export items. Between 1998 and 1999, Iran exported handmade carpets with a value of US $570 million. However, in recent years, Iran’s exports of hand-woven carpets have declined due to fierce competition from other countries."

Clearly, both industrial and handmade production serve important roles for the textile industry in Iran. So important that the Kohan Journal reported in 2007 that the industry deserves enough to compete with oil for attention:

"The Islamic Republic of Iran’s rich petroleum resources — discovered in the Khuzestan province in 1908 — along with its natural gas reserves, have undoubtedly played a prominent role in the economy of that Middle Eastern country. Oil now accounts for 70 percent of all export revenues for the country, which possesses about 10 percent of the world’s crude oil reserves and is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. However, Iran’s government has shifted its attention away from oil exports in recent decades and focused instead on the development of other sources of value-added products, such as the textile industry."

Although the carpet industry generally gets most of the attention, Iran has a rich history in other craft areas as well. The Persian empire was known for its sculptures, carvings, metal work, and other needle arts. Many of those skills continue to flourish, although much diminished from times past. Even in this diminished form, they achieve honors. In 2008, Isfahan, an area known for its crafts in Iran, received the Unesco Award for Excellence:

"The four key criteria for judging products were excellence, authenticity, innovation and marketability. Besides, conditions of 'respect for the environment in materials and production techniques' and 'social responsibility' were not ignored."

Iran's anti-Western leadership makes it difficult for groups who would like to work with these artisans. Thousands of artisans find employment through their skills. Iran Daily reports that there are currently over 300 Cooperatives in Kermanshah:

"Over 327 women-run cooperative companies are active across Kermanshah province, IRNA reported.

Managing director of Kermanshah Women’s Cooperative Department said over 11,000 people are actively involved in provincial cooperatives. “The companies have created job opportunities for 5,600 women by now,“ Aziz Golrokhsari noted.

“Kermanshah’s women-run cooperatives are engaged in conversion industries, production and agriculture units, textile factories, handicrafts and carpet weaving,“ the official stated.
According to Golrokhsari, 88 cooperatives have been established during the past eleven months with 2,700 members and 6 billion rials worth of investment. He concluded that some 41 billion rials in credits had been allocated to the provincial cooperative companies in the current year (ending March 20).

Local women do embroidery in Sistan-Baluchestan province. (Photo by Asghar Azaddel)

Two organizations who have engaged in a long term relationship with some of these artisans carry some of the beautiful embroidery made around Mamqan. Both 7 Zones and Faces of Fair Trade operate under fair trade principles. 7 Zones was started by an Iranian architect and is a member of Faces of Fair Trade.

Those of us who love textiles and the cultures they represent are really a minority, a niche... We have no real impact on larger social values, on the messages of fear that circulate out there. A counter message has to come from other places: from Iranians themselves through their literature, their blogs, magazines, magazines and any other platform they can get. I can't tell my beloved that this fear he has is as obscure as the fear we might have of all the nuts in our own backyard... The urge to blow each other up is nurtured by our violence in our own culture, our own media, so why bother being afraid of the violence that is alive somewhere else? Instead, how about if we do a little laughing together?

Yes, humor is a powerful tool for breaking down these barriers. I think my friend would listen and enjoy these ambassadors of peace, the Axis of Evil, and especially, with this focus on Iran, Maz Jobrani. My friend doesn't read my blog, so this if for you, the reader:

Laughter sure can heal and enlighten. It makes fear small. But, Jobrani uses his humor in all seriousness, for he knows to the core this fear of the other can do. Al Jazeera English has an excellent interview on their show One on One. It's in two parts, but goes quickly:

Enjoy the beauty of Iran, laugh a little with Maz Jobrani, and if you are afraid of a people, study them a bit and see if that fear changes shape. Make that fear your clay and sculpt into something wonderful!

1 comment:

“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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