There were many beautiful and impressive things about the Traditional Textile Craft: An Intangible Heritage conference in Amman in April, 2014. But the most beautiful and impressive were the various women who are dedicating themselves to textiles through research, preservation, support of craftspeople, and the pure enthusiasm and love that goes along with such work.
We were very fortunate to be able to visit Widad Kawar's costume and textile collection at the new home she has created, called Tiraz: a home for Arab dress. Even more fortunate was her participation in the conference, her invaluable presence in this group of textile scholars and enthusiasts. She gave one of the opening talks, in which she explained that she didn't start out intending to collect, but things started happening, and "the more things happened around me, the more I collected." Poignant words from a woman who grew up in Palestine.
Widad also emphasized the importance of documentation, that the collection must be accompanied by as much information as possible. In her case, she conducted extensive interviews with people who created and wore the types of garments in her collection, gathering stories and historical facts. The wealth of knowledge represented by her textiles is awe-inspiring, and international groups and students work with her to help register and retain this priceless store of culture.
Widad is a joy to be around, constantly discussing textile traditions and practices, and eagerly examining any new textile that comes her way, whether in the slide presentations of the conference or worn by the participants (all of whom were usually wearing something interesting and handmade.)
During our visit to Tiraz, we were also treated to the collection of Layla Pio, an Iraqi woman with deep knowledge of the textiles of her country. She gave us a tour through the examples she had on display, including the Samawah kilim she is showing here, a woolen twill weave with dense chain stitch embroidery. I see these in the souq in Doha often.
Another woman by the name of Laila Tyabji, resplendent each day in different hand-crafted saris, runs a wonderful organization known as Dastkar. She gave an inspiring talk about her work, illustrated with so many beautiful images from India that I wanted her to just keep talking and show them all slowly. Craftspeople in the most difficult of circumstances, but given strength by their skills and traditional knowledge. Laila noted that it was craftspeople who recovered more quickly, after the massive earthquake in Bhuj, than other livelihoods. She said that when the skills exist, it takes very little to revitalize a craft tradition, and she gave delightful examples of the ingenuity and creative involvement of the craftspeople, when they are given the chance to participate in the design. Her work carries so much insight into the process of supporting traditional craft, insight that she has developed through myriad ongoing interactions and observations of what is successful and what is not. Overall, her conclusions were quite encouraging and affirmed that the living tradition simply needs to be allowed to function, in the way the people have learned and taught for centuries, and that this can be a very resilient system that need not be threatened by modern consumerism.
Until I have time to write more, I include some more details of this over-saturated week.