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Artists Sayd Abdali and Jane Théau are making a tapestry rug at the museum during Refugee Week.

For Refugee Week this year, museum visitors will have the opportunity to work with artists Sayd Abdali and Jane Théau to help make a tapestry rug. Sayd is an Afghan tapestry artist and Jane is in the final year of a PhD producing a body of work that combines woven horsehair, bronze sculpture and performance. Together they are the facilitators of Finding Your Feet, a community art project that fosters friendships between refugees and their local communities.

Over the past 18 months, Sayd and Jane have been creating a tapestry rug in collaboration with recently arrived people from the Tamil, Rohingya, Afghani, Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian communities in the Sydney suburb of Auburn. The design of the rug celebrates the new lives that refugees begin in Australia – very fitting for this year’s Refugee Week theme, #WithRefugees, which aims to share refugee stories from around the world.

Afghan tapestry artist Sayd Abdali with examples of his work, 2019. Image: Kim Tao/ANMM.

Sayd Abdali is a master Afghan tapestry artist who developed a unique needle (adapted from a syringe used to inject cows) to weave his designs. Sayd is an expert in the technique known as punch needling (or tufting), using it to support his family during 30 years living as a refugee in Iran. Museum visitors will have a chance to try their hand at punch needling, and contribute to the three-metre rug, in our free tapestry workshops from 17 to 21 June.


Sayd Abdali demonstrates the punch needling technique. Image courtesy Jane Théau

Sayd Abdali demonstrates the punch needling technique. Image courtesy Jane Théau.


The Finding Your Feet tapestry rug celebrates some of the many cultures of Auburn through flora. The rug border is comprised of Australian native flowers, while the inside panels feature a range of national flowers including jasmine (Syria), tulip (Afghanistan) and rose (Iraq). The blue background denotes water, Australia’s geography as an island nation, and the fact that all immigrants have travelled on or over the seas.

The woollen rug provides a colourful floral representation of the diverse cultures that have made Sydney their home, overlaid with statistical data illustrating the number of refugee arrivals in Australia after World War II, the uneven distribution of wealth among the world’s population (a leading cause of population displacement), and the increase in global refugee numbers since 1990. It’s a tactile piece rich with symbolism and reflects the power of artmaking to give visual form to the experience of ‘finding your feet’ in Australia.


The Finding Your Feet tapestry workshops will be held at the museum from Monday 17 to Friday 21 June 2019, 10am–12pm and 12.30pm–2pm. Free, no bookings required. Suitable for ages 7 and above; all materials provided and no experience necessary.


Presented in partnership with Settlement Services International.



Kim Tao

Kim is the curator of post-Federation immigration at the Australian National Maritime Museum.