war rugs

Carpet Bombings

After the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afgan rug makers strayed from the mostly geometric forms they had depicted for centuries, and began weaving figurative designs. These images were not traditional either—they were flags, helicopters, tanks, grenades, and other accoutrements of the soldiers they wanted as their customers. Initially the Western market ignored these creations, which did not fit with their concept of what “authentic” Afgan rugs should be.

But eventually dealers and scholars took notice, and now an exhibition featuring some spectacular examples of this hybrid genre has arrived at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. This rug, woven between 2001-2007, depicts President Najibullah, who led Afghanistan when the Soviet army withdrew in 1989, as a puppet managed by a hand with a hammer and sickle. The figures riding on camels across the bottom of the rug are refugees.

Curators stress they have not decoded much of the iconography on these carpets. The weavers, who came from ethnic regions with their own distinctive materials, iconography, and techniques, had shared styles in refugee camps and elsewhere, meaning that the old categories for sorting and interpreting their work are no longer useful. And these days, weavers are just as likely to be influenced by images from television or foreign magazines as they are by historical antecedents.

“People see these things and jump to the conclusion that it’s protest art,” says Penn Museum curator Brian Spooner. “I don’t think we have any evidence at all. I think it’s also that people try and please the international customer.”

The weavers the museum worked with offered the staff a carpet with an image of President Nixon as a gift, Spooner recounts. “That didn’t go down very well here,” he says. “So we compromised, and they wove us a small carpet with the museum logo on it.”

Photo © Textile Museum of Canada.

Neighbouring Afghanistan in the east, Iran’s reactions to its conflicts have been somewhat different. Throughout history, the Iranian expression of objection has been largely echoed through poetry and literature, murals, music, and visual art. The paradox of depicting such bitter subjects as war through a medium that has been long considered a sublime art in Iranian culture has been confronted in the work of contemporary Iranian artists such as Sissi Farassat. Residing in Austria, Farassat hand-stiches hundreds of Swarovski crystals onto canvases to depict helicopters and other vehicles of war. The dazzling appearance of Farassat’s ‘rugs’ contradicts their intense inspiration, and serves as an example of Iranian visual art expressing objection. Similar to Afghan weavers and their clashing use of colourful tanks and flower-shaped grenades, Farassat draws attention to historical trauma and veils the horror of war, instead pointing to the ornamental aesthetic of her heritage and the Iranian carpet weaving tradition.  Unlike with Farassat’s works, however, the presence of childlike patterns in the Afghan war rugs may serve as a testament to the existence of child labour. In the industry, children are often exploited through forced labour due to their nimble fingers and superior eyesight.

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Drones are everywhere — even on rugs

Weavers in Afghanistan and Pakistan have long used military-themed designs on their rugs. Now drones are getting their turn as a rug motif.

And recently, Sudeith came across three rugs featuring weapons he hadn’t seen before: drones. These are hand-woven rugs, made in Pakistan out of wool and dyed with vegetable colors.

Sudeith has never met the weavers of these rugs, but he believes the new theme is a reaction to widespread fury in Pakistan over American drone strikes. And he hopes to one day be able to visit the weavers, whom he believes are mostly women.

‘I want to know what motivates them to combine their contemporary life with their ancient patterns and traditions.’

War Rugs

The war rug tradition of Afghanistan has its origins in the decade of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979, and has continued through subsequent military, political and social conflicts. Afghan rug-makers began incorporating the apparatus of war into their designs almost immediately after the Soviet Union invaded their country. They continue to do so today in the wake of the United States’ 2001invasion of Afghanistan which ousted the Taliban government of Mullah Omar but has failed to bring an end to violence in the country. The rugs produced in response to these events are among the world’s richest traditions of war art of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The terms Baluch and war rug are generalisations given to the genre by rug dealers, commercial galleries, collectors, critics and commentators. The distinctive characteristic of these rugs is their capacity to convey their makers’ experiences and interpretations of the circumstances and politics of war and conflict in the region.

Little is known about the circumstances of war rugs’ production and distribution, or their makers’ intentions.

The second Dice collection has been announced!

Get ready for The Spoils of War Collection!

This collection cycles in Wednesday, the 17th of August (PT)

We’ll be sure to post the Teasers for the upcoming dice as soon as possible!

That being said, the Wyld’s Bounty collection will simultaneously cycle out, meaning that the Wyld Keys and Wyld Chests will no longer drop from Public Multiplayer games. In their place you will find the sturdy War Chests and the rugged War Key.

So, seize your last few days with the Wyld’s Bounty collection and brace yourselves for Spoils of War.