Designing an identity

You may recall the callous and nonsensical destruction of one of the few remaining marvels of human antiquity, the two Buddha’s of Bamiyan, blown-up by the Taliban in March 2001. It was between 500 and 554 AD when were carved from the sandstone cliff face from where they stood. A network of tunnels connected the two and the scalp of the larger of the two was said to have contained a class-room of sorts, the walls and ceiling covered in ancient artwork of which little remains.

Image of explosive destruction of Bamyan buddhas by the Taliban, March 21, 2001. Source: CNN ( this is a unique historical event and this is the only photo of it).

Up to 10,000 of the descendants of the builders of Buddha’s of Bamiyan now reside in Melbourne. For impossible to comprehend reasons, the pre-Islam origins of their ancestors have contributed to the persecution Hazara continue to suffer, many fleeing their home lands to Australia. Their often perilous journey has seen thousands cross the Indian Ocean, reaching Australia to endure its controversial asylum processing facilities. Home Lands v2’s team of Hazara are made up of young people who’s parents had passed through these routes and sought their children’s safe passage to Australia. Others have made the land and sea journey themselves.

To honour their ancestors and origins, to reflect on the hardships many had undertaken in their journey to Australia, and to identify the Home Lands v2 project more specifically with the Hazara community in Melbourne, we sought a name and an identity that best reflected these aims. As such, Bamiyarra, originally a name for an installation we are producing, was unanimously agreed by all members of the Home Lands v2 project team.

The next step was to devise a visual identity in-keeping with Hazara traditions, but which also placed them within a contemporary context – a look and feel that communicated to Hazara first, and to the broader community second – that would, in affect, seed an understanding of how young Hazaras see themselves as the first generation of educated asylum seekers. As Creative Producer on a  kind of fusion of media, culture, politics and friendship project, I was looking for a sign-post on an ancient map, that drew on a hidden heritage, that could being recast in the 21st century.

Traditional Hazara fabric courtesy of Ramzan Ali Haidari.

The brief was taken to Viola Design who absorbed the traditional designs shared with them and the stories behind many of the patterns sown into fabrics. Farkhonda met with Viola Design.

I took several Hazaragi cultural patterned design and few of my traditional cloths to explain the color, the pattern and their importance to my culture. We discussed the importance of vibrant color present in Hazaragi patterns, such as shocking-pink and bright green – the traditional color of Hazaragi culture. The handmade patterns, made by Hazara women have hidden stories sealed to them, which would be the central theme of the new design.

We were delighted with Viola Designs ability to sculpt from these reference materials, as well as a few of my own (e.g. Rodchenko’s superb posters for instance) and offer a suite of images that were not only spot on, they inspired pride in the team.

The core image is that of a star, the shape drawn directly from designs intricatly woven into fabrics that described a world, from what I had been told, of a world Hazara women could not participate in, but they could describe this world to each other, by deepening their culture underground so as to be lessen the impact of discrimination. Farkhonda has often said that Hazara culture was the first victim of genocide.

Hazaragi language, costume, colors, art and ritual practices were seen as ‘under-class’. The Hazaras for over two hundred years have survived by deepening their culture under the ground, to be not recognized, so it would lower the discrimination.

The proverbial clincher were the colours we added to the star design, the pink and green, that ensured it would be instantly recognisable to all Hazara. With that we locked down our team identity, a great name that everyone was proud of and the rest is now up to everyone else – to make stuff, to make the stuff that would be seen and shared from Melbourne and beyond.

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