Irene Carlos and I became friendly thanks to being members of the Surface Design Association at the time (2011,) and we also had a piece in the 4th WTA Biennial here in Costa Rica, so I admired her work even though I had not met her: She is a great visual artist from Guatemala.
That year, she was invited to visit in Afghanistan and, being a place of conflict, we didn’t expect her to be able to delve into textiles, but I anxiously awaited her letters and, of course, her photos.
Three skimpy letters arrived, with warnings not to publish location. I managed to make a full article out of them, without photographs. Some photos arrived later, but I didn’t get permission to publish them, so I didn’t.
Until now! I came across her article published by the European Textile Network, and quickly contacted her. The full story is fascinating:
She arrived in Herat, where she stayed for one month until unrest intensified in that city, leaving her to travel on her own. She visited Kabul first, and then Bamyan. I’m publishing her photos of Bamyan at the end.
May 24, 2011: In her first account she talked about her arrival, lodging, and other sensitive matters we could not publish. Afghanistan is, after all, a war area. The following letter was received this morning after a few days of silence. It promised me photographs that have arrived five years later: It turns out Irene sent the photos, but I did not receive them; then I got them, but couldn’t show them. Here is Irene’s second letter to me, which I posted so long ago:
“For security reasons I can’t tell you where I’m staying, but not much is going on at my refuge. I’ve been painting morning and afternoon, except when Hassina waits for me by the door in her blue chador—then my life brightens up. We roam the streets of Herat seeing historic monuments, the Citadella, bazaars, side-streets full of dust and open gutters. Right then it would never occur to you that there’s a war going on in this country. Everyone seems more worried about their daily shopping, and you see streets full of women in light blue burkas and black or grey chadors. It’s inconceivable that in a desert country the fabrics utilized by women are a hundred percent polyester; yet underneath the burka or chador there are more layers of cloth, like the obligatory scarf that covers head and shoulders, long tunics, and pants. I find myself asking Hassina if she’s not cooking in there, and she answers she no longer thinks about it, ’cause there’s nothing she can do about it. Indeed, we get exhausted under the ardent sun: there’s not a cloud, or a small café to sit awhile. We wait until lunch time to look for a restaurant where there’s only women, or a family-style one where the men are out front in the first room. At the latter we continue down the hallway to sit in the women’s area as close as possible to a small fan to reduce the intense steam from kitchen and desert, but under the chador we continue to roast.
An order of lamb and basmati rice, with pomegranate and saffron fried seeds as garnish actually breaks the routine of eating pasta and salad, salad and pasta, and okra, spinach and potatoes eaten daily at my refuge.
Today I’m going to an Afghan wedding; I’m leaving in a few minutes. I’ll be alone in the women’s area, without knowing a soul, but hoping to see with my very own eyes something I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. I thank my friend, who invited me over to Afghanistan.”
—Irene Carlos, Guatemala
P.S. Photographs will follow as soon as I can find a computer to send them!—Translation by Silvia Piza-Tandlich
Note, 2016: May I congratulate Irene Carlos on her latest article, published by the European Textile Network.