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By Yāmāl Collective (Elaheh Habibi, Ahmad Moradi, and Zohreh Moradi)

Standing in the shade at the waterfront historical pearl market of Laft, we were struggling to look at the sea, squinting against the glaring sun. Laft, an ancient coastal village in Iran’s south renowned for its windcatchers (bādgir), was once a bustling and vital port connecting the Persian Gulf to far-flung corners of the world. Amid the oppressive heat, an idea emerged, one that later evolved into a children’s picture book. The story centered on the enigmatic arrival of an ice shelf on Laft’s shores. Initially a source of relief from years of water scarcity, the residents of Laft soon learned that the ice shelf attracted harmful winds, or Zars. The community, along with local healers, communicated in various languages—Arabic, Indian, Swahili, and Persian—imploring the winds to leave and striving to push the ice shelf back to Antarctica.

Credit: Mohsen Mehdipour
Qeshm Island, the largest in the Persian Gulf, with a population exceeding 100,000 people, grapples with severe drought and water scarcity, particularly during scorching hot, dry seasons, where temperatures can soar to around 40–46°C (104–115°F), significantly affecting the daily lives of inhabitants.

This story is rooted in the very real climate threats facing Laft, and the entire Persian Gulf region. With global warming, the Persian Gulf is projected to become increasingly inhospitable. While excessive heat is common in the region, in recent years, the Persian Gulf has endured especially prolonged periods of scorching weather, with extended periods of extreme heat indexes, exacerbated by suffocating humidity levels. This brutal pairing originates from the searing heat emanating from nearby deserts and the extraordinary humidity coming from the Gulf, resulting in a sweltering environment unparalleled anywhere on Earth.

Along the Persian Gulf’s coast, the cities and villages are shaped not only by the scorching heat and high levels of humidity but also by the winds. Laft exemplifies this interplay with its more than 300 unique windcatchers, designed to harness the winds for natural cooling. The winds here are more than merely meteorological phenomena; they are personified entities, possessing both extraordinary power and an enigmatic, often capricious, nature. Locals see them as supernatural beings, sometimes malevolent, capable of possessing individuals and causing various maladies. Those affected by the winds are called Faras-e Baad, meaning “the mount of the wind,” signifying their subjugation to the winds’ whims. These individuals, under the winds’ influence, may act in ways uncharacteristic of their normal behavior, driven by the winds’ capricious desires.

Credit: Mohsen Mehdipour
Women collect water from ancient well structures, originally built to store rainwater for year-round use after the rainy season. Sadly, these reservoirs have become obsolete due to water scarcity. Historically, it was women who managed and maintained these wells.
Credit: Mohsen Mehdipour
A mountainous landscape near Laft, Qeshm Island.

Motivated to address the localized effects of climate change, we formed a collective called Yāmāl in the summer of 2023. The collective aims to explore the intersection of craft, anthropological collaboration, and speculative futures in the Persian Gulf region. Our first collaborative project was to conduct a summer school involving mostly female students pursuing bachelor’s degrees from the University of Hormozgan, Iran. Fifteen students specializing in traditional handicrafts collaborated with local artisans to illustrate a children’s book.

During a two-month online workshop, participants received intensive training in ethnographic methods. This equipped them to choose and closely work with local female artisans, experts in the traditional handicraft art of embroidery.

Credit: Yāmāl Collective
Laft Harbor, also known as Bandar-e Laft, is located on Qeshm Island in the Straits of Hormuz, south of Iran. This ancient city, with a history spanning over 2,000 years, is still inhabited and preserves traditional structures such as windcatchers.

Following the workshop, through weekly in-person meetings between members of the Yāmāl Collective, students, and local artisans, we found the opportunity to delve deeper into the narrative of the book, exploring myriad visual motifs that could complement and enhance the storytelling.

The heart of our project lies in the unique contributions of the female artisans. With each passing week, they infused the narrative with their personal touch, drawing from a deep well of patterns and motifs that have been preserved and passed down through generations. These artisans, with their intricate knowledge of traditional designs and a keen sense of aesthetics, ensured that every illustration was a reflection of the region’s rich culture.

In the next part of our collaborative project, these illustrated embroideries have become the main materials for an Iranian professional designer to finalize the layout of the book, scheduled for publication in late 2024 in Iran. Upon the book’s release, in addition to distribution in bookstores, we are planning special book events in Iran. These events will feature image sharing and book readings, drawing inspiration from traditional Persian oral storytelling (naghalli) as well as the ancient Japanese storytelling technique of kamishibai. The proposed gatherings will provide an opportunity to ensure that our collaborative process resonates with the youth, who are set to face the real impacts of global warming in the years to come.

Credit: Mohsen Mehdipour
In this drought-stricken landscape, where only a few hardy plants endure, the women’s vibrant floral embroidery on their garments is an oasis of life. These intricate designs and vivid colors breathe vitality into the barren surroundings, akin to blossoms in the desert. They exemplify the creativity and resilience of the women who craft them.
Credit: Yāmāl Collective
We successfully organized hybrid meetings to facilitate a workshop aimed at illustrating the book. This collaborative effort brought together students of handicraft, their teachers, and local artisans all working together to brainstorm and generate ideas for the book.
Credit: Mona Zareh Zadeh
Fatima, a talented local artisan residing in one of the small villages, skillfully portrays the ice shelf. She became part of our group during last year’s summer school, where students were taught ethnographic skills and tools to enhance their creative abilities.
Credit: Mona Zareh Zadeh
The embroidery technique known as golabatoon doozi has evolved in the region during the years of trade in the Persian Gulf. Much like other aspects of life in this area, this art form draws inspiration from Indian styles. Before artisans commence the embroidery, the fabric is securely fixed onto a loom. The pattern in this particular piece is inspired by traditional motifs, yet it also incorporates entirely new elements, showcasing the fusion of tradition and innovation.
Credit: Yāmāl Collective
Fatima’s skillful depiction of the ancient windcatchers. Golabatoon doozi embroidery represents the rich visual heritage of the region; however, its existence is now under threat, mirroring the precarious state of the windcatchers themselves. These remarkable structures once had the ability to transform scorching hot weather into a cooler, more-bearable climate.
We are creating ten art cards based on the picture book. These cards are placed inside the kamishibai, and a book-reading facilitator will perform the story. Kamishibai is a Japanese method of storytelling, often referred to as “paper theater” or “suitcase theater.” It’s an art form that combines storytelling and narration with visuals, blending multiple artistic disciplines.


Elaheh Habibi

Elaheh Habibi is a visual anthropologist, writer, filmmaker, and cofounder of the Yāmāl Collective. She’s a PhD candidate at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, researching 1980s documentary photography in Iran. Her ethnographic film About Love on a Small Island, set in Qeshm Island, won Best Student Film at the 2019 AAA annual conference and Ethnocineca in 2020.

Zohereh Moradi

Zohereh Moradi is an assistant professor of handicrafts and traditional arts at the University of Hormozgan and an advocate and ambassador for autism awareness. She recently defended her PhD in art studies examining the localized practices of autism art therapy in the southern region of Iran.

Ahmad Moradi

Ahmad Moradi is a postdoctoral fellow at the Anthropology Institute of Freie Universität Berlin. Ahmad has carried out extensive ethnographic research in low-income neighborhoods of Bandar Abbas, a major city bordering the Persian Gulf. The results of this research are set to be published in a monograph in early 2024.

Cite as

Habibi, Elaheh, Zohereh Moradi, and Ahmad Moradi. 2024. “Heatcraft: Handmade Story of an Iceshelf in the Persian Gulf.” Anthropology News website, February 7, 2024.