Christopher Farr x Turquoise Mountain: Co-founder Matthew Bourne talks about our partnership

Matthew Bourne, co-founder of Christopher Farr, has been working with Turquoise Mountain for many years. Here he reflects on working with us and why Afghan carpets are so special

Assembled Stripe Collett Zarzycki Christopher Farr

Assembled Stripe rug, designed by Collett-Zarzycki for Christopher Farr and made by Turquoise Mountain supported weavers in Afghanistan

I had been to Kabul once before in 2014 when I first encountered Turquoise Mountain and the wonderful work they were doing. We were there to organise a project with Los Angeles based female artists who had been selected by The Hammer Museum to design rugs that were to be produced in Afghanistan and exhibited. The subsequent show received great acclaim.

It was during this visit that we were taken to Murad Khani by our hosts. We all came away very impressed and whilst there we met Shoshana Stewart, now CEO, who made a lasting impression. In the intervening years we started to work together in the area of Carpet making, an area where they were just getting started, and we collaborated on exhibitions organised by Wallpaper* Magazine for the London Design Festival and Salone del Mobile in Milan. For the last 12 months however, our relationship has taken on a more defined purpose and it was this that led me to visit at the beginning of May.

2016 Milan Show

Afghanistan: An Artistic Revival at La Triennale in Milan, featuring pieces by Christopher Farr made by Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan

Both Christopher and I started as antique carpet dealers and would occasionally handle 19th century textiles such as silk embroideries or hand knotted tent bands and rugs produced by the fabled nomadic tribes of central Asia, such as the Tekke and Yomut, that wandered the area now known as modern Afghanistan, and this provided a connection to the area, albeit an abstract one.

It is a region held in high esteem by every true carpet man and woman and this was my main attraction of working in the area in the 21st century, to not only help preserve the rare skills found there, but also to have the opportunity to access the best wool in the world for carpet making. This yarn is sourced in Ghazni district that sits at a height of over 2000 meters, with the harsh winter climate ensuring the robust oily yarn that is essential for the very best carpets.

It was great to see the Afghan students learning the ancient craft skills that Turquoise Mountain have long supported, and gratifying to know that carpet making has now been included in their scope of work alongside programmes that support jewellery making, ceramic and glassblowing to name a few. These crafts, passed from generation to generation symbiotically in eastern cultures, are at risk of being lost after four decades of conflict and once lost, they are gone forever. Indeed, this loss of expertise occurred with the use of natural dyes in carpet making in the nineteenth century when the peerless knowledge and skills acquired over millenia in carpet weaving cultures was obliterated in only a few short decades, when cheaper chemical dyes were introduced to Iran and Turkey by western merchants after 1870.

Dyed wool slide 8

Wool dyed using natural dyes

Our aim is to secure the future of Afghan carpet making by improving the quality control and teaching new finishing processes in washing and clipping where a lot of the value of contemporary handmade carpets is added. As the contemporary rug market transformed over the last 30 years the main production areas such as India and Nepal have gained a major advantage over Afghanistan and we need to redress the balance so that western merchants such as ourselves can order custom rugs at the high end, as well as less expensive “stock” rugs, confident that our customers will be delighted with the results. At the same time there is a need to address the status of carpet weaving in a wider social context in order to encourage future generations to keep these skills alive.

This is something we at Christopher Farr have always been keen to engage with and it will take the commitment of established businesses in the west, working in partnership with producers and organisations such as Turquoise Mountain, to achieve this over the coming years and ensure that the ancient tradition of carpet making is returned to its former status as an important and valued part of the artistic heritage and culture of the region. The alternative is to see a gradual decline in these ancient skills to the point where they will dissapear altogether.

Christopher Farr Collett Zarzycki Assembled Stripe Rug 3 Collett Zarzycki for Christopher Farr Hand Knotted Afghan Wool CZ28344 HR copy

Assembled Stripe rug, designed by Collett-Zarzycki for Christopher Farr and made by Turquoise Mountain supported weavers in Afghanistan

It was truly inspiring to spend time with the Turquoise Mountain team, experience a few days of life in Kabul, and learn more about the exceptional work they are doing there. As we wandered around the surrounding streets it was clear that the Turquoise Mountain team is held in high regard by the people living nearby and this served to reinforce my desire to be involved.

We plan in the future to collaborate in various ways and will do what we can to promote the Afghan carpet in western markets, this autumn we are staging an event as part of the London Design Festival to celebrate our collaboration with Turquoise Mountain and introduce the great work they do to an international audience of professional buyers and the wider design community in what is regarded as the most important city for design in the world.

All of us at Christopher Farr are very proud to be collaborating with this exemplary organisation on their ambitious new carpet project and to also be supporting them in their wider objectives now and long into the future.