Installation & Video Exhibition

By Mohammadreza Arab Khazaeli

۱۵ Sep to 3 Oct ۲۰۱۷


Planting Cotton and Its Effect on the Lives of Villagers of the Central Mazandaran Region (Goharbaran, Sari)

Planting cotton in the central areas of Mazandaran province in general and in the farmlands of Sari and Neka was the main agricultural activity of the local people up to 1996, mainly because of the location of Gha’em Shahr textile factory in the vicinity of the farmlands.

In mid April of each year, the seeds of cotton were planted in the farmlands and in the last days of summer, that is, late September, the farmers would pull cotton out of bolls and cramp it into coarse  hemp bags called “Panbe Khelal” by the locals (Picture 1).

Pulling cotton out of bolls or what locals called cottoning the bolls  used to be a very interesting event that could encourage most of the villagers to spend long hours together. This getting together could in its turn lead to various events and social issues within the small community of the village.

Having extracted cotton out of bolls and put it inside the hemp bags, the farmers would pile the bags in a number of places that generally included the barns or the backyards of the senior members of the community or those of the cotton dealers, so that they would be ready for weighing, setting the price, and marketing. The bags were 150 to 180 cm high, 100 cm wide, and almost 90 kg each.

The bags would be piled on each other for a couple of days and gradually more new bags ready for sale would be added to the pile and the cotton pile would grow larger and larger. The accumulated cotton bags would compose a huge and at the same time odd pile of brown color, that was made of smaller units of equal size in a random and disorderly arrangement. In fact this arrangement would accommodate various social, cultural, economic, and geographical issues; a strange arrangement that would somehow guarantee the survival of the local people.

Specifically, the pile of cotton bags would attract the villagers during some particular times of day; specially it would draw the attention of the children who would raid and climb it, squeeze into its layers for fun and spend lots of time inside it. The children’s playing and their direct physical contact with such a material with a quite serious role in the lives of the elder ones, was a significant part of the fun, understanding, and perception  of the children vis-à-vis their environment.

Touching soft cotton units would provide a specific understanding of something special to the villagers who could have never had the same opportunity again or a second chance. The smell of cotton and the hemp bags, the infinite softness of cotton within coarse bags, the gathering of people, and their social interactions….were all the things that have stood the test of time in the minds of people who had the opportunity of touching that exclusively arranged pile; memories that invoke an unrepeatable period of specific customs and behavior belonging to the history of a small community.

After 1998 and 1999, and due to some changes in terms of ownership and management of Gha’em Shahr textile factory, the factory went bankrupt. All of the workers were laid off and did not get any salary. However, the bankruptcy of the factory not only undermined the living standards of the employees directly, but also it had a significant impact on the lives of the dealers, the farmers, and the agriculture sector of Mazandaran as a whole. The farmlands that used to be dedicated to the plantation of cotton, were transformed into fields for growing other crops and citrus tree gardens. Citrus trees that were not that much native to the regions in north center of Iran and now one can witness the change in the environment of the region due to the expansion of these gardens.

I, as one of those kids who had the opportunity to be in direct contact with the arrangement and pile of hemp bags containing cotton, continue to review the memory of the specific sense and feeling relevant to that experience in my mind and feel that Panbe Khelal  arrangement can constitute part of a limited geographic region which is gradually being forgotten.