Zolaykha Sherzad, The art of weaving peace in Afghanistan

How does the profession come about? Born in Kabul in 1967, Zolaykha Sherzad’s certainly stems from her childhood in Afghanistan. There were many artists in her family: an architect uncle, another sculptor, an artist father… but she enjoyed the delicate fabrics of her grandmother, a woman of many talents, including weaving silk.

He also remembers this designer installed on the family property with his three wives and children: “I was very impressed by this charming man who made our clothes and dresses. He was always creating. » Zolaykha Sherzad rarely speaks of this lost paradise: “With the shock of leaving, I buried many things in my memory,” he admits. After the communist coup in 1978, his family was forced to flee the country and first sought refuge in Iran. Just six months later, the Islamic revolution drove them into new exile in Switzerland.

Far from the chaos of war, he was raised by his grandmother and studied architecture at the Lausanne Institute of Technology. A way for him “Giving art to the service of society”, through the construction of schools, hospitals… In 1994, she moved to New York and founded the award-winning architecture firm ARX with her husband Frederic Levrat. The birth of her first child in 1997 made her reconnect with her roots. In 2000, he created the Umid School NGO to build schools. The first one will see the light of day in the rural province of Ghazni.

Saving the technology of the ancestors

Two years later, after the fall of the Taliban regime, he finally returned to Afghanistan for the first time. Extent of destruction, a “a country divided at all levels”, also “The great hope of young people” upset him. He even settled there for a while with his family to take an active part in the reconstruction.

While visiting a small training workshop near one of her schools, she realizes that crafts are an important lever for women’s liberation. “How many of them were able to get a secondary education and what were they going to do with it?” The power of this know-how related to knitting, embroidery, and dyeing jumped out at me. They connected us to the ancient past, to the silk roads, and gave us a much bigger identity than these ethnic divisions, which were exacerbated by the war.” he explains.

We had to act quickly: due to decades of conflict, many artisans left the profession and the ancestral technique was on the verge of extinction. After studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Zolaykha Sherzad founded her first clothing workshop in the old city of Kabul. “In addition to giving work and dignity to dozens of families, he also preserved a priceless intangible heritage. As an ethnologist, he inventoried hundreds of traditional motifs that are now used in his works. welcomes Marie-Noël Giraud-Stourdzé, president of the Étoffe d’artistes association, which intends to support cultural activities around the wire.

“Opening on a social, personal and spiritual level”

Unique handmade pieces at Zarif Design (Elegant Dari, the language spoken in Afghanistan, means “precious”, “elegant”, “subtle”) revise and modernize oriental cuts. Jackets, coats and dresses made of silk or cotton are decorated with calligraphy inspired by the great Persian poets (Rumi, Bedil). In the tapestry purchased by the Gimet Museum in May, the word “peace” is repeated in different colors in a joyful dance. “It was built by ten women at home before it was assembled in the workshop. “Peace is the fruit of collective effort.” Zolaykha Sherzad emphasizes that despite the Taliban’s takeover, it is currently struggling to continue its activities.

In the workshop, master tailors, seamstresses and seamstresses still work in harmony today. “Through this slow, meticulous, almost meditative work, we restore inner peace. This quasi-therapeutic experience allows women to open up on a social, personal and even spiritual level. notes Zolaykha Sherzad. Sometimes, now agnès b. As in this impressive coat with pomegranate and floral arabesques, part of the collection, artistic women embrace the lining of their personal dreams. Like the protective talismans that children often adorn, they give clothes an intangible weight, an extra touch of soul that touches the heart.


His inspiration. Bauhaus modernity

“I discovered the Bauhaus artistic and social movement during my studies. This energy of an entire generation of artists in the fields of architecture, design and theater after the First World War influenced me greatly when I founded Elegant Design. Through this school, there was a desire to create a community of workers and to transmit know-how in a minimalist economy, a care to beautify everyday objects and a respect for raw materials. Very modern ideas! »

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