Cov­etable ar­ti­sanal gems.

Afghan ar­ti­sans col­lab with a Cana­dian de­signer on a vi­brant hand­crafted col­lec­tion.

Elle (Canada) - - Insider - By Christina Reynolds

thanks to a re­cent trip to Afghanistan, Toronto-based jew­ellery de­signer Kara Hamil­ton has deep­ened her un­der­stand­ing of “hand­made.” Her pre­vi­ous start­ing point with “raw ma­te­ri­als” was ma­chine-made wire. But in Au­gust, she vis­ited Kabul’s Turquoise Moun­tain, a trust founded in 2006 to pre­serve and teach tra­di­tional Afghan crafts. While work­ing with re­cent grad­u­ates of the non-profit’s In­sti­tute for Afghan Arts and Ar­chi­tec­ture, she learned that the jew­ellery ar­ti­sans “hand-pull” me­tal wires and then crimp them into in­tri­cate chains—“they phys­i­cally yank the me­tal through a tiny hole to reach a de­sired thick­ness and then pull it for miles and miles,” says Hamil­ton. But even be­fore that, the ar­ti­sans melt down the raw met­als us­ing alchemy tech­niques. “Be­cause of vari­a­tions in the ar­ti­sans’ source ma­teri­als, their bronze is very gold in col­our,” she says of the Afghan me­tal mix used for the re­sult­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Hed­vig Alexan­der, of Toron­to­based Far & Wide Col­lec­tive, brought the de­signer and the ar­ti­sans to­gether. As the founder of the two-and-a-hal­fyear-old so­cial en­ter­prise, she thought that the project was a per­fect way to fur­ther her fair-trade busi­ness’

ob­jec­tive of con­nect­ing ar­ti­sans in emerg­ing economies to the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. (All Far & Wide rev­enues are re­in­vested into th­ese ef­forts.)

“We are com­mit­ted to work­ing with ar­ti­sans who don’t yet have a mar­ket to sell their goods,” says Alexan­der of the four small busi­nesses that she chose to work on this col­lec­tion. Each is made up of re­cent Turquoise Moun­tain In­sti­tute grad­u­ates op­er­at­ing out of the in­sti­tute’s busi­ness in­cu­ba­tor—and she has given three of the four busi­nesses their in­aug­ural or­der. Far & Wide al­ready car­ries lat­tice-wood trays and jew­ellery by Turquoise Moun­tain— Alexan­der ran the or­ga­ni­za­tion for two years dur­ing the seven years she lived in Afghanistan—but this is the first time it has un­der­taken a de­signed-from-scratch jew­ellery col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“It’s hard for a rel­a­tively new jewel­ler to make a pro­to­type for a com­pli­cated piece, and there has been a learn­ing curve on our side too,” says Alexan­der, who had to wait through sev­eral rounds of de­signs be­fore she could price the 12-item col­lec­tion. Hamil­ton, like­wise, had to learn how to work with lapis lazuli, a semi­precious stone that is mined in Afghanistan. The ar­ti­sans ad­vised her that the ul­tra­ma­rine stones can break eas­ily if they are not se­cured in a me­tal set­ting, so they ad­justed the de­signs. And the ar­ti­sans, who Hamil­ton says were craft­ing pieces so pre­cisely that they al­most looked ma­chine made, got a les­son in the art of per­fectly im­per­fect de­sign. “There were a cou­ple of times I in­ter­vened in the hand-mak­ing process and said ‘Wait, stop’ be­cause I wanted to see their hand touches in the pieces,” she says. “We had to find a bal­ance be­tween con­sist­ency and an un­der­stand­ing that what makes a piece unique is see­ing some­one’s fin­ger­prints in it.”

This was the first time three of the four busi­nesses had ever worked with an out­side de­signer, says Maryam Omar, Turquoise Moun­tain’s sales and de­sign of­fi­cer, who acts as a li­ai­son for in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers and clients. Omar, who re­turned to Kabul in 2012 af­ter study­ing at the Lon­don Col­lege of Fash­ion, helps ev­ery­one com­mu­ni­cate­, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively trans­lat­ing de­sign sketches and as­sess­ing qual­ity con­trol. “There were some mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions as we worked,” she tells me via a Skype call. “But it was a very good learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to make pro­to­types.”

“It is very chal­leng­ing to work in Afghanistan,” con­tin­ues Omar, cit­ing out­side fac­tors like lim­ited in­ter­na­tional ship­ping op­tions as just one ex­am­ple. “Th­ese or­ders have pro­vided not only jobs for th­ese ar­ti­sans but also great train­ing for th­ese very young busi­nesses where many [of the own­ers and em­ploy­ees] are women. Jew­ellery mak­ing is one of the sec­tors that women feel com­fort­able work­ing in as it is cul­tur­ally ac­cept­able.”

Back in Toronto, Hamil­ton now thinks of the project and her trip to Afghanistan as a “jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for why I do what I do,” she says. “I know in­stinc­tively that craft and art and de­sign are es­sen­tial parts of life. But that be­came so much clearer to me when I was there—see­ing that there is this cur­rency to beauty, re­ally.” This is some­thing that Alexan­der fun­da­men­tally un­der­stands too. Ear­lier this year, she launched ar­ti­san­toolkit.org, a free il­lus­trated busi­ness-train­ing man­ual to help Afghan ar­ti­sans. And she’s al­ready plan­ning Far & Wide’s next col­lab with Turquoise Moun­tain and an­other Cana­dian jew­ellery de­signer, Jenny Bird. “It’s so in­ter­est­ing, be­cause Kara’s ini­tial draw­ings are so far from what we ended up with,” says Alexan­der. “Afghanistan has a cool fac­tor to it and a beauty that you don’t nec­es­sar­ily see. The fi­nal col­lec­tion has a bit of a rough edge, but that re­flects what it is—the de­sign con­ver­sa­tion through­out the process took it where it was sup­posed to go.” n

THE COL­LEC­TION The Kara Hamil­ton and Far & Wide Col­lec­tive Ar­ti­san Jew­ellery Col­lec­tion’s 12 bronze and lapis-lazuli pieces (some also have bits of ster­ling sil­ver) range in price from $50 for the bronze and lapis-lazuli rings to $310 for the chain neck­lace with dangle leaves (farand­widecol­lec­tive.com). (The solid lapis-lazuli ring did not go into pro­duc­tion.)

STU­DIO SES­SION De­signer Kara Hamil­ton (cen­tre) with Turquoise Moun­tain busi­ness de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer Ramzia Sar­wari (left) and ar­ti­san Nas­rin Alimi in the Gowhar­shad jew­ellery work­shop in Kabul, Afghanistan. Gowhar­shad, which means “joy­ful jewel,” is one of 30 busi­nesses Turquoise Moun­tain helps sup­port by pro­vid­ing space, elec­tric­ity and ad­vice.

SOUNDS RIGHT For the col­lec­tion’s long neck­lace (right), Hamil­ton took in­spi­ra­tion from jew­ellery worn by Afghan

no­mads. “I love the very fine clink­ing sound that tra­di­tional pieces make, so we ham­mered our pieces thin to cre­ate a very

light ‘twin­kle’ sound too.”

AFGHAN STYLE Turquoise Moun­tain is lo­cated in the Mu­rad Khani dis­trict of Kabul’s old city, which was dam­aged dur­ing the Afghan Civil War. The non-profit has re­stored 112 build­ings in the area, in­clud­ing Great Sarai (above), one of its home bases.

HAND WORK Ar­ti­san Nazila Jabari (above) in her Gowhar­shad jew­ellery work­shop, where she em­ploys Alimi and three other fe­male ar­ti­sans. Her busi­ness pro­duces the chok­ers, rings and some bracelets for this col­lec­tion.

DE­SIGN EVO­LU­TION This is one of Hamil­ton’s early sketches for the lapis-lazuli plate neck­lace (be­low). “We made a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of sim­pli­fi­ca­tions to the de­signs as we went along—it was re­ally a hands-on col­lab­o­ra­tion,” says Hamil­ton, who reg­u­larly Skyped and emailed with the ar­ti­sans.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.