Traditional Skills: Refugees

South Australia's Craftsouth ran an outstanding workshop series in May 2010 where refugees with traditional craft skills from six countries taught their secrets to Australian craftspeople.

Craftsouth knotted rug weaving workshop (Iran / Afghanistan) with Ahmad Javid Rashidi, October 2010. Photograph: Niki Vouis. Images courtesy of Craftsouth.

Craftsouth ran an outstanding workshop series in May 2010 where refugees with traditional craft skills from six countries taught their secrets to South Australian craftspeople. Courses were offered in Eritrean basket weaving, Colombian bark string bags, Bosnian rug weaving, Bangladeshi quilt embroidery, Sudanese beading and knotted rug weaving. Culturally embedded in the artists' countries of origin, these skill sets are not normally available in Australia and people were clamouring for places. The 'slow methods’ characteristic of many traditional craft techniques allowed for the exchange of stories and ideas between ‘teachers’ and the lucky 68-odd participants many of whom were keen to translate the newly learned techniques into their own contemporary practice.

In counterpoint a second workshop was designed for refugees separated from their cultural milieu to reconnect with their traditional skills. Provided with access to materials, tools and tuition within their own community groups, many seemed to connect with a deeply felt part of themselves when they were re-united with the tools of their craft. When Ahmad Javid Rashidi picked up the hand-crafted metal tools of rug weaving that were imported from Iran for the project and began to execute the well-known hand movements of his former life, he felt he had arrived back in a place that he could call home.

It didn’t take long for more invitations to arrive - weaver Lady Narvaez was engaged by the Steiner School in Adelaide to teach Colombian weaving techniques while Masuma Akther will be profiled in the national textile arts publication Embellish in early 2011, for which she has been paid to draft designs and instructions about selected Nakshi Kantha embroideries. Masuma was also contracted by Relationships Australia SA’s Art Think program.

The demand from SA craftspeople for this experience is such that Craftsouth plans to run another series of workshops in 2011. Selected craft works created by these practitioners and SA artists will be showcased at the Adelaide Town Hall in 2011.


Courses offered in 2010 were: Eritrean basket weaving with Milete-Tsega Ogbalidet, Colombian bark string bags with Lady Narvaez Penoloza, Bosnian rug weaving with Razija Beganovic, Bangladeshi quilt embroidery with Masuma Akther and Tania Hassan, Sudanese Beading with Abuyo Omot Gilo and Knotted rug weaving with Ahmad Javid Rashidi (Afghanistan / Iran).

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