The Afghan art of Moradori – Bead Weaving
We congregate at the back of Parramatta Fresh Juice and Ice-cream, on Burramattagal Land of the Dharug Nation. Our intercultural beading group has pushed four smaller tables together to make a communal workspace. The ice creamery’s Afghan owner graciously permits us to use the space on the unspoken condition that we purchase alternating rounds of watermelon juice and dessert glasses brimming with Falooda. We are, of course, only too happy to oblige – beading, friendly gossip, and fresh-pressed juice is a combo that curbs the headaches of a chaotic work week.
Bibi walks in breathlessly, swinging tote bags full of glass beads and metres of tightly wound fishing line. Both are ingredients to the immaculate wearable art that Bibi beads and teaches others to bead. She has a calm energy, a serene laugh.
Last year, I attended a Bibi-led Afghan beading workshop at the Sydney Opera House. Every minute or two, the twenty workshop attendees called her over to their wrangled mess of fishing wire and tiny glass beads, begging for help. Unfazed, she untangled every cluster, threaded clear fishing line back through the eyes of 1mm needles, and reassured a flustered grandmother of three who couldn’t see where her last bead went.
Now, Bibi takes a seat opposite me and unpacks her kit. In it, there’s a beaded pouch smaller than a post-it note, a few necklaces with varying geometric patterns, and a bookmark with pink and gold primroses against a white background. I pick it up, run my fingers along the beading. Not a single gap between her beads. The bookmark flexes, and I imagine it to be stronger than a brick wall.
I’m still twisting the bookmark around my fingers when I ask Bibi about the kinds of items Afghan beaders make. Picking up the post-it note pouch, she asks me what I think it is. There’s a thread attached to the enclosure; a tiny stylus of polished bone hangs off the end. I shrug.
‘It’s a kohl pouch,’ she says. ‘You know, for eyeliner. You dip the wand into the pouch and swipe the kohl over your eyes, like this.’ She demonstrates the eyeliner application with the bone stylus. ‘Most of what Afghan beaders make is jewellery, but we also bead cushion covers, pot lid covers, kettle covers. In Afghanistan, these beaded items can make up part of a woman’s marriage dowry.’
I hand the bookmark back to Bibi, but she shakes her head. ‘No, you keep it.’ Bibi is intuitive, clocking just how much I covet this bookmark. Even more obvious, as I don’t put up too much of a fight when she offers. Smiling my thanks, I place it in own beading kit.
(works by Bibi)
Bibi comes from a big Afghan family. ‘We’re very Afghan’, she laughs between my questions. She learned to bead when she was around 12 or 13, but even before that, she adored watching her mother bead with her community back in Afghanistan. Watching how Bibi speaks, how she beads, I become a bit of a fangirl.
‘In Afghanistan, people sell this stuff,’ Bibi points at a necklace whose edges she promises to clean up. It’s such a gorgeous piece, a kaleidoscopic choker. ‘We don’t have a lot of work options. Mum got married extremely young and beading was a way of making money.’ But in Afghanistan, women don’t just bead for financial reasons. Bibi tells me that women bead to stay connected to their culture and to each other. ‘It’s a beautiful tradition of women gathering their arts and crafts.’ In fact, Afghan beading has been around for so long that Bibi ‘[doesn’t] even know where beading came from.’
‘I’ve always been creative. I love colours and pretty things.’ Beading is part of Bibi’s family and cultural heritage. ‘For me, beading is how I practise being an Afghan,’ she tells me.
‘When you bead,’ Bibi says, ‘you pour out whatever you want, an intention. I like to spend time weaving positive thoughts.’ This time, I pick up a choker Bibi has almost completed. It’s thick in width, with blue and white glass beads stacked against each other in diamond formation; a phalanx around the wearer’s neck. I ask her if there are any motifs or designs that carry a lot of meaning for her. Bibi nods and laughs a little, as if remembering a funny mistake she once made.
It wasn’t just Bibi’s mother who taught her how to bead. Back in the day, trial and error used to be her teacher too. ‘I made mistakes and reinvented patterns.’ She points to the choker I’m holding.
‘This diamond pattern is a design that’s synonymous with Afghan beading culture. It’s a design people can’t appropriate.’ She says this with a conviction that piques my interest – I ask her to clarify if she’s talking about the politics of cultural appropriation.
‘Well,’ Bibi explains, ‘not everyone can be a beader. People can’t appropriate this because you need to have the same intentions.’ More than that, Afghan beading is characterised by the brick stitch. There are no looms involved, no guide, really. Every piece is hand stitched, square-shaped glass beads stacked in an alternating arrangement. No gaps. The brick stitch is concrete. ‘The Afghan brick stitch technique is significant because you need to have patience. Patience and good intentions,’ Bibi says. A recipe that calls for empathy, authenticity, and community care.
Bibi takes care of her community; she’s an artist, a performer, a curator, an activist. ‘Beading has a positive impact. It’s how I raise awareness about what’s going on in Afghanistan right now.’ The answer is always art. Aside from her work at the Sydney Opera House, she collaborated with Belvoir St Theatre on a project called Art for Afghanistan, raising funds for Action Aid’s emergency response. ‘Beading is a way for me to advocate and raise awareness, which is the definition of community.’
Community, for Bibi, is also about reaching out. ‘Whenever you bead, you’re connected to your ancestors and your roots – you’re reaching out to them.’ The depth of Bibi’s DNA comes out through her art. Eventually, I ask Bibi about what beading is called in Dari, her mother tongue.
Moradori, Bibi tells me, is a compound word. ‘Mora means beads while dori means weaving or sewing. When we bead, we weave stories together, especially because it’s something we do together.’
Before we pack up and leave Parramatta for the evening, I offer to pay Bibi for the bookmark she offered to me earlier. She shakes her head once more. ‘I give gifts that people appreciate, gifts you can’t put a price tag on.’ She points to the thick, unfinished choker in her beading kit. ‘This one took about 18 hours.’ I gape at her.
‘You’re truly an expert,’ I say, emphasising the ex in ‘expert’.
With empty glasses of Falooda on the table, we thank the ice creamery’s owners and part ways for the evening.
A few weeks ago, I was walking home with a novel in hand and Bibi’s bookmark wedged between its pages. I went back to read later than evening, but the beaded flower bookmark was gone, sunk in a gutter somewhere between the train station and home. Devastated but much too embarrassed to tell Bibi of my carelessness, I did the next logical thing: I beaded.
Using the brick stitch Bibi had taught me, I tried to emulate the pink-petalled design of her bookmark. Stacking alternating beads into gaps the previous line left, I thought of Bibi, tried to manifest her kindness and generosity into my weaving. My bookmark’s primroses ended up lopsided, its edges curving into a slight ellipse. But I still use it; I haven’t lost it just yet.
(2023, Mami Watta Collections Launch, Bibi speaking on the art of beading and spoken poetry)
This feature was written by Deborah Prospero with thanks to the Rainbow Beaders Club, to Ana María Parada, and with special thanks to Bibi Goul Mossavi.
You can find Bibi’s work on her socials: @ beadsbybibigoul