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Unfolding Projects: The Handkerchief Project

The Handkerchief Project, also known as Making Marks, is an image-text project initiated by artists in Australia as acts of connection and exchange with women in Afghanistan. The completed artworks comprise handkerchiefs that have been printed on, embroidered and marked in various ways with images and text by women from both countries.


The objective of the project has been to utilize artistic practice to support women in Afghanistan in their quest to acquire and use literacy skills. As Australian women living in privileged circumstances in a country whose military was involved in Afghanistan, we felt a responsibility to connect to Afghan women living in circumstances of war and immense hardships. By presenting and exchanging our personal worlds of art and text we were creating a meeting place – despite the challenges of difference – in the space of an artwork.


In 2017, 20 Australian women artists created imagery in line with their artistic practice, on individual handkerchiefs. These handkerchief ‘pages’ were delivered to OPAWC’s Vocational Centre in Kabul, with an offer to Afghan women learning literacy skills to relate to the imagery by writing directly on, over or around the imagery in any medium.


43 handkerchiefs out of the 60 returned to Australia in 2018, marked by the women in Afghanistan who voiced their hopes, longings and ambitions in embroidered text. Moreover, they extended their embroidery over the initial imagery, resulting in an interwoven relationship on the shared space of an artwork.


Despite challenges of communication and the circumstances of a country in conflict, most of the artwork made its way from Australia to Kabul, and back. We don’t know why 17 of the handkerchiefs did not return; were they lost? Were they damaged? Did some of the women have to leave the Centre before completing their work? Whatever the reasons, it feels indicative of the situation of instability in Afghanistan.

The book about the project, Making Marks: Australia and Afghanistan, can be purchased from



Click on the images below to view the full-sized artworks 

Artwork once marked
Original artwork by Australian artists

Artwork twice marked
Completed artworks by Afghan artists

Kath Armour

Kath Armour and unnamed Afghan woman

Kath Armour

Kath Armour and Mursal 

Kath Armour

Kath Armour and unnamed Afghan woman

Rosalind Atkins

Rosalind Atkins and Shagofa