Your First Museum Visit

Do you remember the first museum that you went to? I do – it was on a third grade field trip to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. I remember being fascinated by all of the artwork, sculptures, and other objects in the exhibit. I wanted to read all of the captions and to learn more and more about each piece. 

Sa Nay Ma demonstrating the art of creating scarves with a back-strap weaving loom.

Sa Nay Ma demonstrating the art of creating scarves with a back-strap weaving loom.

Shortly after I began working with The Community Cloth in the summer of 2015, I was informed that our Burmese women’s hand-woven scarves would be included in an exhibition at The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH). I was beyond excited. With its unique and often quizzical exhibits, the CAMH had quickly became one of my favorite Houston museums and I was stunned to hear that our artisans’ work would be displayed among 35 other Texas designers showcasing their creative talents in the Texas Design Now exhibit.

Trying to analyze the work on display.

Trying to analyze the work on display.

We (Community Cloth staff and volunteers) knew that we had to get the artisans to the museum while the scarves were on display. After coordinating schedules, transportation, and childcare, we finally found a Sunday that worked for the majority of our Burmese weavers to make a field trip to the CAMH. Watching them walk into the museum brought back memories of my first time at one, they were in awe of their surroundings and all of the pieces on display. For many of them, this was their first time at a museum, and we enjoyed walking around and helping explain the different pieces. 

Chatting about who made each one.

Chatting about who made each one.

Eventually, we got to their exhibit. They instantly recognized their scarves and began pointing and discussing who had made each one. They could not believe that the scarves they had designed and created were in a museum - it was a powerful experience to witness. For most of these ladies, their work has never been recognized. It is a mentally complex process that requires the physical stamina to operate the loom as well as the creative ability to design the scarves.

Our Burmese weavers along with their art. (Pictured left to right: Naw Paw, Shay Lay Paw, Pu Pu, Day Moo, Poe Meh, Tee Mo)

Our Burmese weavers along with their art. (Pictured left to right: Naw Paw, Shay Lay Paw, Pu Pu, Day Moo, Poe Meh, Tee Mo)

The memory of my first museum visit has remained with me over all these years and I hope that the same will be true for these ladies. More importantly, I hope that the event boosted their self-confidence in their craftsmanship since their scarves are irrefutably a work of art.

Note: You can now purchase the scarves that were on exhibit on our online store.

Written by Katelin Cherry

Program Coordinator

The Community Cloth

 

Artisan Spotlight: Khatera from Afghanistan

Khatera is a wife and a beautiful mother of two boys and two girls. Her journey began in Afghanistan, where she grew up and met her beloved husband. When stability seemed out of reach for their living conditions there, they moved to the closest neighboring country, Iran, to pursue a better future for themselves and for their family. In Iran, living conditions were harsh and opportunities were just as elusive for both her husband and herself. Obtaining letters of permission to work or travel to other states remained a great challenge. They decided to move to Azerbaijan, where they spent their next 13 years. Khatera worked for 8 years at a women’s center and became the community leader among the Afghani people. She helped many women during all times of the day, even receiving calls at midnight from them when they needed medical care and guidance to nearby hospitals.

Khatera, a refugee artisan from Afghanistan, that uses her sewing skills to earn an income for her family. (Photo credit to Maggie Wong)

Khatera, a refugee artisan from Afghanistan, that uses her sewing skills to earn an income for her family. (Photo credit to Maggie Wong)

 

In 2010, Khatera made her last move to America with her family. “US is a good place for women,” she states. “I left friends in Azerbaijan and felt a little alone at first. But transition was good. Everything is new. I immediately found English classes and it was really exciting.” She connected with The Community Cloth where she received assistance with tasks like purchasing groceries and the program became pivotal to her transition to Houston. Through the Cloth program, Khatera used her sewing skills and made supplemental income for her family.  

Khatera at her sewing desk in her home where she works. (Photo credit to Jane Marie Photography)

Khatera at her sewing desk in her home where she works. (Photo credit to Jane Marie Photography)

After working for a while in the US, her husband had to quit his job because he has shrapnel in his leg from an injury while helping the US military when they lived in Afghanistan. The pain had become unbearable for him and he had to stop working to receive treatment for it. Thankfully, Khatera was able to secure a full time job to provide an income for her family as well as sew products in between taking care of her children.

When I was 11, I started sewing with my mom. I love this job.

Her husband is getting better now and has started working as a driver with Uber. Khatera was able to quit her job so she can focus on her two passions, education and sewing. She has excelled in both of these as evidenced by receiving the highest grade on her exam in her English class and continuing to make gorgeous, high-quality tote bags and cosmetic bags.

Khatera working with The Community Cloth staff to make her next bag. (Photo credit to Jane Marie Photography)

Khatera working with The Community Cloth staff to make her next bag. (Photo credit to Jane Marie Photography)

Khatera always keeps her eyes on the future and hopes to expand her "sewing business" with The Community Cloth. She also has big dreams for her children, “I want them to have education so that they help others in the future”. Her positivity is incredibly uplifting and she wholeheartedly believes that you can do anything with hard work and confidence in yourself. After spending just a minutes with her, one will be inspired by her story and will begin to have aspirations to pursue one's own passion like she has done with sewing and education.

A tote bag made by Khatera. Tote bags can be purchased on The Community Cloth's online store here.

A tote bag made by Khatera. Tote bags can be purchased on The Community Cloth's online store here.

Article written by Maggie Wong and Katelin Cherry