For the Afghan Carpet Project, weavers in Afghanistan took designs from six LA artists and made them into carpets now on view at the Hammer Museum. The exhibition (which runs through the end of September) is the culmination of a project that began with a trip to Afghanistan to visit weavers in Kabul and Bamiyan in March 2014.
Lisa Sanchez is a veteran of more than 18 years of military service and the President and CEO of not-for-profit AfghanMade. Sanchez and AfghanMade originally approached carpet producer Christopher Farr about collaborating. Farr brought in the Hammer Museum and the Afghan Carpet Project was born. “It was really Christopher’s idea to have this type of woman-to-woman project,” says Sanchez. “The Hammer Museum brought in these wonderful women from Los Angeles and then we travelled to meet the women in Afghanistan to really get inspired to create these beautiful pieces of work.” The six American artists (Lisa Anne Auerbach, Liz Craft, Meg Cranston, Francesca Gabbiani, Jennifer Guidi, and Toba Khedoori), were chosen by the museum and Sanchez brought them to Afghanistan.
“The logistics of the trip were very difficult, but it was definitely worth it,” she said. “We traveled in armored vehicles through Kabul, and answered all the questions they had so they could really feel safe in their environment. We did have security guards with weapons and the Department of Defense hosted that trip. We traveled in helicopters to the city of Bamiyan, which is way up in the mountains. There was still snow on the mountains, it was a beautiful trip and that’s what inspired one of the pieces in the exhibit. While we were in Bamiyan, we took them to the homes of all these weavers and they were able to meet them and ask them questions. They also met the non-profit organization Arzu Studio Hope, who will be getting a portion of the proceeds generated by the sale of the rugs.”
Bamiyan was known for two 6th-century monumental standing Buddahs carved into the side of a cliff. The statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, but Sanchez says, the artists still made a trip to site. “You can still see the massive holes in the mountains were the Buddhas once stood. The artists were able to climb the mountains all the way to the head of the Buddhas and overlook the whole city of Bamiyan. So they got to explore the culture, as well as meet the people of Afghanistan. It was a really moving experience. I’ve been working in Afghanistan and with these women for over six years. I immediately saw a change in their behavior when they were interacting with these artists. They were so proud to show what they did and excited that a group of women from Los Angeles were interested in their work. I’ll never forget this moment when we were in a weaver’s home, and unfortunately her husband is disabled from the war, so she’s now the breadwinner in the family. She was telling her story and when I asked if I could take a picture of her, she said, ‘yes.’ Normally when that happens, they’ll adjust their headscarf a little bit, or tighten it up, but she did the opposite. She took it off and unveiled herself. She stood taller and more proud. She really wanted us to see who she was and you could tell it was a really proud moment in her life. It gave me chills.”
Sanchez says that one of the designs that really stood out to the weavers is Jennifer Guidi’s Blue Burqa. “I know Jennifer saw them all around the city. She was taking pictures and one night she made a little watercolor that ended up being what inspired her to make her design piece. Once we gave it to the weavers, they immediately knew what it was and it excited them to be able to show the burqa as art and maybe break a stereotype of what the burqa is. It motivated them.”