Baluchistan: an arid land covering modern-day parts of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Rainfall typically occurs in harsh, infrequent storms and for eight out of the twelve months, heat is intense. The people of the region – collectively called the Baluch, although there is a myriad of ethnic groups present – have been no stranger to hardship and have learned to adapt to challenges the Iranian Plateau throws their way. These people were nomads and have traveled across the region for hundreds of years. In order to simplify their migrations, they created fabrics and materials to help them carry supplies. These textiles became not only practical resources but also beautiful mediums of expression.
From here on, history becomes art, and the Kruizenga Museum becomes a temporary home to “Once Were Nomads: Textiles and Culture in Baluchistan,” an exhibit that explores the unique culture. “When you think of textiles, usually people think of rugs or tapestries,” says Caleigh White, a Hope College junior who worked alongside the museum staff to organize and curate this exhibit. “But it’s just amazing how they can live their whole lives without the everyday essentials that we have and just live with the bare minimum, their textiles.” White is a studio art major, and spent the summer researching and preparing to display these textiles. “When I got to look at [the textiles] up close, I realized how intricate and amazing they can be. It just opened my mind a bit.” “Once Were Nomads” hosts an assortment of cultural pieces that range from domestic furnishings to animal trappings to marriage gifts – even a life-sized camel. Many ethnic groups such as the Hazara, the Pashtun and the Aimaq are also represented.
From such a wealth of tradition naturally comes a wealth of knowledge; viewers will not only get a feel for how these people survived, but also for how they thought and moralized and how they viewed themselves in relation to each other, nature and God. White encourages everyone to visit and spend a while gazing at the imaginative fabrics. “If you do actually want to immerse yourself in the culture and learn more about the textiles and the people,” she says, “the whole story is there. It’s just very mindopening.” However, it is a tragedy of time that beauty fades, and the current situation of Baluchistan plays testament to this fact. The Baluch people had freely traveled across borders in the past years but are now limited in where they can go due to antagonizing national borders.
The majority of Baluch people are now concentrated in the Baluchistan region of Pakistan, where they face human rights violations from the Pakistan government, which the Human Rights Watch (HRW) described as an epidemic in 2011. One thing White hopes viewers will take out of this visual experience is a better appreciation for the Middle East. With all of this in mind, it is even more imperative for students and faculty to not only open their mind but their hearts as well. A visit to the Kruizenga before May 11 will surely end in a profound celebration of humanity for anyone.