Australian and Afghan women sew together

18th January 2023

The Handkerchief Project: Afghan women sew hopes during the war

An artistic exchange between Afghan and Australian women, The Handkerchief Project, has been acquired by the Australian War Memorial. More than 40 mixed media handkerchiefs were sent to Afghan women by Australian women during the Afghanistan War. On each handkerchief an Afghan woman sewed her response. The handkerchiefs will be taken into the National Collection to represent the lives of women during the war.

Afghanisan participant, Mursal Rahimi, said the teamwork between the Australian and Afghan women was important.

"It means a lot to me and lots of other people in my country. It was amazing that women from two different countries with very different levels of education, with different languages, and very different cultures worked together very closely and provided such wonderful artworks, " Rahimi said.

Project founder Gali Weiss said: “The objective of the project was to support women in Afghanistan in their quest to acquire and use literacy skills.”

The Australian women’s work was sent in 2018 to the Organisation for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities (OPAWC) in Kabul, which was running literacy and vocational classes. Handkerchiefs were selected because they were easy to transport and could be used with various media, including printmaking and embroidery. The handkerchiefs were then delivered to OPAWC’s Vocational Centre in Kabul. Afghan women learning literacy skills there were invited to write or embroider directly on, over or around the Australian women’s imagery, using any medium.

The handkerchiefs were returned to Australia, bearing messages such as: “My aim is to become a judge”; “Our country needs peace”; “I wish to see my family healthy”; “I want to live in freedom forever”; and “I hope that no more Afghan mothers shed tears from the loss of their children”.

The collection has found the right home to share this important message with Australia: messages of connection and friendship, but most importantly, solidarity between two cultures.