Archive for April, 2004

rugsofwar bibliography

April 29, 2004

The bibiography prepared by Tim Bonyhady for The Rugs of War catalogue lists all our known references to war rugs – and will grow as contributions and suggestions roll in! Please let us know if anything is missing…

War rugs expose extreme feelings

April 27, 2004

Ann McMahon reviewed the first showing of The Rugs of War at the School of Art Gallery in The Canberra Times on 23 June 2003.  She writes:

Future categories

April 26, 2004

Future categories

Once contributions start flowing, and with time and technology permitting, it’s our intention to develop this site with a number of additional categories, once we transfer offline data into this medium.

Question of the week

In this category I will pose my own questions on a regular basis – ideas, details, attributions, translations or interpretations which I have not been able to resolve through my own sources and research. Contributors are also invited to post their own questions.

Contributors’ Gallery

In this category we will load images of rugs sent by contributors for information, or to illustrate points of discussion, or as the subject of questions posted to elicit responses from other contributors.

With each image contributors should include the following data: descriptive title, attribution of makers’ identity, date (known or estimated), materials (if known), collection, location, size in cm (height before width), name of contributor. Text translations, evidence of date, etc. would also be valuable information.

In addition, it would be really interesting and valuable if contributors gave an account of when and where a work was acquired, and its provenance (when known), together with any other information relevant to the objectives of rugsofwar.

For example: The Story of Jahan Bahksh, Baluchi style, c. 1990s, knotted woollen carpet, woollen warp, collection Peter Bellas, Brisbane, size 2820 x 2070. It came to Australia via a dealer in Canada, and it was sourced in Germany.

Source of the flags and dove of peace motif

April 26, 2004 is one of the best dealer’s sites, with rugs for sale, archives of rugs sold, and images of rugs in their collection. They have posted a great piece of detective work here which traces the source of the motif of the US Flag and the Afghanistan flag linked by the dove of peace which appears in a number of post S11 rugs and the so-called “War against Terror” rugs.

They show how the motif itself is in fact a reproduction of “Coalition of the Willing” propaganda leaflets distributed to the Afghans during that phase of the conflict. My question is: who can translate the texts on the original pamphlets for us? Please post a comment if you can.

First blog

April 25, 2004

Every blogger must have their first post! Here goes. My story, as you’ll see from the background to this site, and my biodata, is that I’m an artist and writer and academic with too many interests. However, interactivity and collaborative art forms has always been an element which is integral to my practice, and here we are, with the weblog, the definitive interactive medium!

The appeal of the weblog is, of course, to find people like you (presuming someone is reading this) and to open up a multi-directional network so that knowledge, experience, and personal stories of discovery can be concentrated in one place – like one of those signposts in a remote location with so many pointers to distant places that the experience of being there is almost beyond credibility.

This site comes out of a process of exploration here at the Australian National University where a group of colleagues with academic interests in new media arts, and other things, are engaging with the possibilities of using this medium as a new kind of research tool.

My interest in war rugs (I use this term for convenience, even though it’s extremely inadequate to describe the genre) dates from 1988 when artist friends Olive and Tony Bishop showed me two war rugs they had bought from a rug dealer in Adelaide, South Australia. I was able to buy a couple from the same source, and one from Ray Hughes in 1993. Since then, my interest has been intermittent, and what few rugs I’d seen seemed repetitious and overpriced. Until three years ago when a local find in Canberra by Tim rekindled our interest. Encouraged by each other’s enthusiasm, we went on a search.

The difference, of course, was the decade of the internet, and so discovering dealer websites like (the now defunct) and proved to us that the genre was much more complex than we had ever imagined. One thing led to another, and we discovered that an extraordinary collection of rugs had found their way to Australia, and the first of our exhibitions as part of the Fusions conference here at the ANU was the result.

What I hope to achieve, through the medium of the weblog, is a focus for the interests of all of us who find the genre of the war rug to be one of the most inspiring medium of late 20th century contemporary art.

Please indicate your interests, and stay in touch. Over the months ahead I hope to build a unique interactive database (which, technology permitting, will post and receive visuals) which develops our understanding of the categories, themes and narratives which these works embody, to link to existing sites, to explore unknown dimensions of these works, the authors of which may remain forever anonymous. This will be, in a sense, a dedication to those amazing people.

My thanks to Sharon Boggon for enabling us to get from A to B, and beyond.

Background to this site

April 25, 2004

Nigel Lendon and Tim Bonyhady: The Rugs of War

In our various essays to date, we have argued that this relatively unknown and unrecognised genre is significant in global terms for a number of reasons. It merits being seen comprehensively and widely. At the meeting point between East and West the artists of Afghanistan have produced an extraordinary new visual arts genre to represent the experience of this horrific era in their own distinctive media and aesthetic forms.

This tradition also sits strikingly at the nexus between contemporary and indigenous arts, and orientalism, and challenges our expectations of all three categories. And while it represents perhaps the most comprehensive tradition of war art of the 20th century, it has received almost no recognition within the art world, and it is marginalised by the rug world. Perhaps this is because it both sits between and crosses established categories of visual art – through its innovative qualities, it breaks out of its original categories of fine craft and ethnographica to sit precariously alongside contemporary and avantgarde art, and political art and propaganda. Rarely they have escaped the rug trade into the world of art or anthropology, and thus far there has been no comprehensive analysis through publication or exhibition of the depth of the tradition or its artistic significance.

We have held two small exhibitions thus far, and published the small catalogue The Rugs of War (2003), which has sold out and is now available online. The first exhibition of 25 works in Canberra was mounted in the Australian National University School of Art in the context of the 2003 Fusions conference, and 15 works were subsequently shown in Adelaide at the Nexus Gallery. Critical reaction to the latter has been strong: see Peter Hill and Susan McCulloch’s reviews in The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald. Peter Hills’ perception of the potential relation of this work to the contemporary Australian art elsewhere the Adelaide Biennale is relevant to our own motivations. In these two small shows we’ve demonstrated that this work deserves to be seen as contemporary art, and that the shift from the floors of domestic spaces to the walls of the gallery effects a dramatic conceptual and aesthetic re-evaluation. Viewers (and critics) have been deeply moved by the experience.

“War rugs” are the product of the nomadic Baluchi people of Northern Afghanistan, most of whom were displaced to Iran and Pakistan during the two decades of conflict since the Russian occupation in 1979. Many of the makers have apparently now returned to the northern parts of the country, and although there is evidence of continuing production of minor and propagandistic works, recent experience suggests the “war rug” genre is no longer part of their repertoire.

These works first started appearing in Australia in 1988, later through mainstream rug dealers (eg. Cadry’s) and in the art world through Ray Hughes (1993/4), as detailed in Tim Bonyhady’s catalogue essay Out of Afghanistan (use link to catalogue above). Tim’s essay details the various contexts in which a number of early collections have been exhibited in Europe in the early 90s (Aubry, Frembergen & Mohm) and the relevance of their accompanying publications.

Apart from the Australian War Memorial’s recent acquisition of two small rugs of the “War Against Terror” era, and the Powerhouse Museum’s recent acquisition of a minor work, we have uncovered no evidence of these being acquired by any significant art museum in Australia or internationally.

Other publications reveal scant research or critical enquiry of the kind we have initiated in The Rugs of War. Little or no anthropological work has been done in the region since 1979, for obvious reasons. The only exception discovered thus far is Brian Spooner, a US anthropologist in his “Weavers and dealers: the authenticity of an oriental carpet”,1986 (see our Bibliography).

We know of approximately 100 or so in war rugs in Australian collections, plus the works in the two other existing publications (Aubry, Frembergen & Mohm) and plus those featured on web-based collection databases and dealer websites.

The essays in The Rugs of War are the first published analytical and interpretative texts produced in an academic context. They have established a groundswell of interest in the project. It’s our intention to build on this in a future publication. We know of two significant private collections in the US and a number in Europe.

Access to the circumstances of production has already been explored by our collaborator Jasleen Dhamija in recent visits to Afghanistan and we are hopeful first hand experience will overcome some of these impediments to understanding the nature of these works’ production.