Fashion design from Afghanistan

Silk and calligraphy

This remote country has so much more to offer than what we see on the news. Thanks to the Musée Guimet in Paris, we discover its diverse and interesting past: from Paganism, Zoroastrianism, to Buddhism, eventually also mixed with a dash of Hinduism and finally, adopting Islam as its major religion.

French and Afghan archeologists have been working hand in hand, excavating, and restoring ancient monuments and objects. They are displayed in several rooms in the basement of this great museum. The exhibition relays the history of this mountainous country, from its early days until today. Photographs and objects by the hundreds are on display, showing the vast panorama of an ever-evolving culture. Afghanistan constitutes an agglomeration of tribes, each one having their specific traditions and past histories.

Going from archeology to fashion may seem like a large step. However, on the upper floor, Zarif design shows but a different side of this creative and gifted people. Zarif is a Persian word meaning “delicate or fine” but it can also be extended to mean a person with a subtle and ethical mind.

Men’s cloth used also for women

 Sur le Fil exhibits colorful caftans and jackets, embroidered in the fashion of the most intricate Arabic calligraphy, flowers or simpler, but just as elegant, motives. To write on textiles is an ancient tradition in the region. The famous poet and artist, Rumi, was born in Afghanistan in the 13th century. Poems were already then found interwoven in carpets and textiles, so Zarif Design is merely picking up on an ancient tradition and modernizing it.

After years of war and invasions, the 2001 Western intervention brought back some of the Afghan exiles, among whom, Zolaykha Sherzad. She started a local project in Kabul, having a specific vision in mind. Through her company, she works with Afghan women and men. The seamstresses and embroiders work alongside each other in the Zarif workshop. The railings are full of jackets and coats for men and women: from the most intricate and delicately embroidered silk coats to simpler jackets.

Long caftan

 Zolaykha has integrated the chapman – men’s coat – with, among others, its typical green and purple stripes. President Hamid Karzai used to wear one on public occasions. Zarif design has reinvented this garment to include it in the women’s wardrobe, shortening it, taking it in at the waist and adding embroidery as well.  

Some of the most stunning examples of her design are exhibited at Musée Guimet. Photographs from the workshops are displayed and Zolaykha herself explained how this all came to be. It’s like a fairy tale come true. Until this day, her company still exists, although it’s getting difficult to export the products to the West due to all the restrictions.

Embroidered by locals in Kabul

Zarif design is a fabulous example of how to help women become more independent in an otherwise very patriarchal society. It’s also a great discovery of the beautiful fabrics and skills of this proud people. Fashion for a Western public using ethnic textiles and embroideries is very actual. I therefore encourage anyone interested in fashion and in helping those women, to have a look – and why not to order – something from

Anne Edelstam, Paris

Musée Guimet, Paris

Sur le Fil

26 October 2022 – 06 February 2023    

Pablo Reinoso at Chambord

Chambord viewed through one of Pablo’s sculptures

This spring and throughout the summer, the castle is opened for visitors to come and enjoy its premises with a touch of grace: that of the French/Argentinian artist, Pablo Reinoso, with his exhibition ’Overflow’. 

The cultural life has suffered during these years of pandemic. However, it has also permitted artists to work on projects without outer disturbances. The Loire Valley is one of the most frequented tourist attractions in France, thanks to the several well preserved castles and its closeness to the capital.  Most castles were emptied of their furniture and artworks during the French Revolution. Maybe that’s why they’re well suited for contemporary exhibitions as this one?

Pablo Reinoso has been keen on using the existing structures and rooms. He’s an ecologically concerned artist who works with woods – recuperated or available in abundance – and steal. For the over fifty pieces shown at Chambord, he’s used chestnut trees that grow in the vicinity and fallen mulberry branches. There are also huge charcoal paintings that ornate some of the castle’s walls and even parts of its façade where repairs are being conducted, using scaffolding.

The castle’s masterpiece is an inner circular, intricate, double staircase, inspired by Leonard da Vinci. Pablo invested it without obscuring its beauty, by hanging inside it, black canvas ’breathing’ cushions. Ventilating devices placed in the cushions, make them move up and down. Similar cushions have been used in some of the castle’s smaller side rooms. The artists told us to enter the space in silence and to ’listen to the breathing’. This black cushion sculpture had something spooky over it though. His coal installation inside this dark room didn’t lift the mood either. It suggested the end of an area and the manner in which we have polluted the environment.

Pablo’s installation inside the staircase

In this seemingly hopelessness, there was light in the tunnel with his humorous wood benches that stretched out like spaghetti and his likewise perched chairs. Pablo has invested what he could in this otherwise barren castle: on the walls, the floors and in the large fireplaces, in which he had placed wooden sculptures, resembling flames.

’Articulations’ – sculptures made as bodily articulations and hung up or placed on the floor – made me think of Leonardo da Vinci’s fascination for the human body. They might have different meanings: such as the ingenuity of our own bodies, with all its intricate functions, that we don’t even pay attention to unless of course something gets broken; as well as our fragility. Pablo’s works reflect the human senses: be it breathing, hearing, touching, seeing (in the dark room), moving… It may also be a reminder of our eventual decaying. ’We come from dust and to dust we shall return’.

It was nice to step out of the chilly castle and into the warm spring day in the park. Pablo’s idea seems to be that his outdoor sculptures may also be useful. Children were climbing in them and two of them are like enormous rocking chairs, quite comfortable at that. However, the one I preferred was a monumental tree in steal. Peaking inside it, I discovered a perfectly adjusted spiral, apparently also inspired by Leonardo da Vinci.

The park is lovely to stroll around in. There’s a restaurant in the vicinity and a shop selling the castle’s own wine among others. Not far away is another castle, Cheverny, with the Swedish sculptor, Gudmar Olovson’s beautiful ’Love garden’ that is also worth the detour. The Loire Valley has much to offer and is at its best when, as in this case, it mixes history with art.

Anne Edelstam

Pablo Reinoso


Château de Chambord

Utställning från den 1 maj till den 4 september 2022     

Steve McCurry, the famous photo-journalist strikes again!

His picture of the young Afghan girl with her fabulous green eyes made a worldwide tour, widely published on National Geographic’s cover page. A retrospective of some of his 150 enlarged photographs are shown this winter at Musée Maillol, in Paris.

Tibet 2001
Burma 1994
Tibet 1999

The visitor is invited to follow in Steve McCurry’s footsteps from Afghanistan to South-East Asia and from Africa to South America. The pictures show the horrors of war and misery, parallel with a real sensitivity for peoples’ as well as animals’ sense of integrity and dignity. Humor and playfulness are also prevalent in some of his pictures. McCurry finally managed to track down the Afghan girl, that made him famous and photographed her as an adult, seventeen years later.

The exhibition begins on the upper floor in this rather small but refined private museum, next to boulevard Saint Germain – Paris former artists hub – with its numerous galleries and small shops. The first two rooms are thought of as an introduction to his works, with only black and white photographs, from Steve’s first trip to Afghanistan, between 1979 – 1980. Many are taken of the mujahedin, who fought against both the Russian and the Afghan armies. 

I next stepped into the heart of the exhibition, where I was met by an explosion of colors and portraits with people from all over the world, mostly clad in their traditional clothes. Except for the pictures of the Afghan women entirely covered in their blue burkas, trying to survive with their children after years of wars and Taliban governments. There are over two million Afghan widows and their situation is dire to say the least. 

India 1983

There are also funny pictures, such as the one with the boys playing next to some of the world’s oldest trees – baobabs in Magadaskar. They’re also called ”the Tree of Life”, inspired by the Bible, because these thousand years old trees contain life-bearing water.

Madagaskar 2019

Magnificent pictures of Wadi Rum, the Jordanian Southern desert, take us back in time: to the Nabateans who built Petra – the pink sandstone city – around 2000 B.C. 

The Omo people from Ethiopia are incredibly beautiful and colorful.

Omo Valley 2013

 From Mali, I enjoyed the simple but architecturally interesting houses. The pictures from Sri Lanka are amazing with fishermen highly perched on wooden sticks fastened in the sea bottom and from where they throw their fishing nets. 

There are hilarious pictures taken during the monsoon period with people wading through the waters carrying a sewing machine or a tray with a  teapot! The overcrowded Indian trains with bicycles attached outside the wagons are also unforgettable.

Fishermen in Sri Lanka 1995

The exhibition finishes with a few short videos where we may follow the photographer himself on some of his adventures around the world. To cite Steve McCurry: 

  • When I arrive to a new place, I set off without any specific goal, early in the morning. Suddenly something  magical happens and I start to view the world in pictures, nearly as in a meditative trance.    
Afghanistan 1991

It’s nearly impossible to properly relate this extensive exhibition but I hope to have given you a small taste of it. If you can’t see it, you can discover Steve’s works through his numerous photography books.  

Anne Edelstam

Mali 1986

Musée Maillol

The World of Steve McCurry

09 december 2021 – 29 maj 2022

59 – 61 Rue de Grenelle

75007 Paris


Viviane Maier at Luxembourg

Reading the newspaper

Viviane Maier’s exhibition at the Musée Luxembourg this autumn showed us the life in everyday USA in the 1950s through the lens of this nanny – turned into a photographer.

A sweeper taking a rest

This is how the museum presents her: “The career path that Vivian Maier (New York, 1926 – Chicago, 2009) took is unusual yet is that of one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. It was at the heart of American society, in New York from 1951 then in Chicago from 1956, that the children’s governess meticulously observed the urban fabric that already reflected the great social and political changes in its history. It was the time of the American dream and overexposed modernity, the behind-the-scenes of which constituted the very essence of Vivian Maier’s work. The exhibition allows the public to see archives of the photographer that were discovered in 2007 and have not been seen before: vintage photographs that Vivian Maier printed, super 8 films never shown, audio recordings… As such the exhibition allows the full extent of the eminent artist’s work to be appreciated, and for her work to be placed in the history of photography.”

Her eye for details is extraordinary
A tender love scene
Mirror, mirror what are you telling me?
Love is in the air…
Taking a nap…
The odd couple

These are snapshots of a life long gone in a USA that was quite different from what it is today. It’s also an example of how a very ordinary person like Viviane can – with a creative eye – make an enormous difference for so many people, decades later.

Art is always art!

Anne Edelstam, Paris

Musée du Luxembourg 15 September 2021 – 16 January 2022

Online attacks on female journalists

The Swedish embassy in Paris together with the French Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) organised a conference, 26 November, 2021. The discussions evolved around the threats against female journalists on Internet.

– In Sweden, we have implemented, since a few years back, a feminist foreign policy; explained the Swedish Ambassador to France, Håkan Åkesson, in his introductory speech, this winter day.

A brochure was handed out that read “Sweden’s feministic foreign policy” (freely translated from French). OSCE also handed out a manual about safety for women journalists on social media.

The tone of voice on Internet gets rawer and rawer. Anonymity seems to brake normal civic codes. Teresa Ribeiro, representing freedom of speech at OSCE, talked about the daily attacks women journalists are submitted to in most parts of the world, on social media. Added to sexual harassments, women face threats to their children and families on a much larger scale than their male counterparts.

– Politicians and governments must take their responsibilities and defend these women. Human rights should become standard and safety measures implemented, at least within the EU, to start with.   

We were reminded of the Maltese investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galicia, who was murdered in a car bomb explosion, in 2017, after having exposed her government’s corruption and crimes. That same year, a Swedish journalist, Kim Wall, was murdered by the Danish inventor, Peter Madsen, while doing her job.

According to Ribeiro, these acts have to be seen as a major problem, affecting the entire society, and not only as a “women issue”.   

Pauline Adès-Mével, Reporters Without Borders’ spokesperson, clearified that another major problem on Internet is: the fake news. The amount of fake news flourishing on social media represent a real threat to serious journalism and to our democracies – based on trust, need it be repeated? It’s a gigantic and very lucrative industry. We’ve seen how it works lately, during the pandemic, with its massive anti-vaccine propaganda, for example.    

The French digital specialist, Henri Verdier, explained to the audience the difference between Internet and social media. It’s the latter (such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) that cause the problems. They are owned by private corporations who need to take their responisbilities and stop both the threats against female journalists and the fake news. He recommended us all to be vigilant and report it, as soon as we encounter any.

– Don’t forget that it was hate speeches, threats and false informations, spread on social media, that led to the decapitation of the French teacher, Samuel Paty; he added.

Likewise, the murder of the Maltese journalist had also started with threats on social media before she was actually killed. Anonymous threats and hate propaganda have led to pogroms in the past – such as during the Nazi regime in Germany – and lately we witnessed what happened in the Capitol in Washington D.C. when it was taken over by hulligans.

– As many as three quarters of women journalists are threatened, of which one fifth lead to actual attacks; said UNESCO’s General Secretary, Audrey Azoulay.

– As a result, many women journalists stop doing their jobs. It’s a global problem that needs to be adressed internationally.

The conference finished on a concensus: that rules need to be implemented to stop these threats, as well as the fake news circulating on social media. However, it demands that the EU and governments implement tougher measures. Not to forget the responsibilities of chief editors and male colleagues, who should also assist their female co-workers.  

Anne Edelstam