Equal rights for everybody. Despite for what you look like, what you do, what you believe in of whether you are a man or a woman. With everything that’s going on in the world these days, this subject is more alive than ever. Designers duo RK collective therefore gets a lot of heartwarming reactions to their exhibition Crafted Liberation, in which the headscarves from thousands of Iranian women are used to create stadium seats. How did they come up with this idea? Why headscarves and stadium seats? Nila Rezaei and Chris Krainer explain.

Start of the fire

“I was born and raised in Iran. Moved to Australia when I was 19”, Nila tells us. “My connection to the country is still strong, I go back every year. Unfortunately, gender inequality and societal restrictions have long burdened the women of Iran. Since 1981, Iranian women have been banned from attending men’s sporting events in stadiums, justified by preserving modesty and gender segregation. Especially since September 2022 – when Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman, lost her life due to a so-called ‘improper headscarf violation’ while in Iranian ‘moral’ police custody – I feel like I must do something. Her death really started a fire. In Iran ánd in me.”

Collective call for action

“In the face of danger and persecution, Iranian women worldwide united in protest. “Since I am not there on the streets protesting – like my mother and female friends are with the risk of being taken into prison – I wanted to do something from here. I called my friend Chris, an industrial designer. We have a shared vision and values and complimentary skills. We started RK collective and to voice for those often silenced, we launched a collective call for action. We invited Iranian women globally to donate their unwanted headscarves for a transformative project.”

Thousands of headscarfs

“First of all, I asked my parents and friends for their scarves. We also put a post on Instagram and shared it with all the Iranian women we know. As a result of last years’ tragic death of Mahsa Amini, a lot of women refuse to keep wearing their headscarves and took them of. It really takes courage to do that, because women get fined en your car is being taken away when you are out on the street without a scarf. A change is going on! We collected thousands of scarves from Iran, but also from Iranian women in Europe and the US.”

Making of stadium seats

“We transformed them into stadium seats, telling stories of their struggle against political and societal constraints. In the creating process we found Australian manufacturing partners: Talon Technology and Defy Design. I asked them to collaborate and they said yes right away. We researched and processed the material and how its circulation can positively impact society and the environment. Using a combination of lamination and compression moulding techniques, we created a unique material by combining the donated headscarves with recycled polymers, resembling the materiality traditionally used in stadium seating. The mixed materials are transformed into sheets and formed into bucket seats.”

Designers on a mission

“Our seats became an exhibition, calling for awareness and solidarity for women in Iran and beyond. These stadium seats embody the shift from enforced tradition to empowered liberation and are a symbol of a history of gender-based oppression in Iran, now redefined into a celebration of the resilience and voices of these women. Our vision is to reimagine a future where headscarves are a matter of personal choice, not compulsion, and where every Iranian woman enjoys equal rights and freedoms.”

Dutch Design Week

“We are proud of the fact that we attended the Dutch Design Week in Holland this year. Chris once lived in Eindhoven for five years when he worked for Philips. He loved the format of the DDW immediately, thanks to the wide range of artists and concepts. This is the first time Chris and I did a big project together. Being it such a success and being able to show our project to the world via this great platform, empowers us to keep doing what we’re doing. We even got several requests from people who want to work with us.”

Different responses to one object

“The reactions at the DDW surprised us. Some visitors saw it as a piece of design and admired our innovating use of materials, or loved the fact that we kept the scarfs from becoming waste material. Others related our project to the refuge crisis in Europa. A lot of young people didn’t know this was going on in Iran and we also got reactions from several museums. It’s good to see we triggered different responses with our physical object. We raised awareness. And that is exactly what we want.”

To be continued…

“The potention of our exhibition is not fully reached yet. That’s way we consider going on a tour next year. The story still needs to be told. Maybe we extend our exhibition with conferences or experiences like talks or workshops. Maybe to put the immigration context in a larger scale, we don’t know for sure yet. What we do know is that we would like to work with musea around the world. And that every company with strong attachment to people and fabric – like nofruit – can help us spread the word!”
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