Archive for May, 2004

Digital Kalashnikov

May 28, 2004

In response to my Life and Death post, people have been asking me how do I know the figure in the deer’s stomach is (still) a Kalashnikov? Putting to one side the fact that Mr Kalashnikov’s invention may have resulted in more deaths than any other twentieth century artefact, and that its presence in war rugs acts as a grim reminder of its multiple meanings for different audiences, it remains one of those symbols, figures, or ciphers by which rug makers allow their images to morph from set of meanings to another. You might ask: how few pixels does it take to represent death? – here are some examples.





A Precursor???

May 18, 2004


A most welcome comment on this post has just come in from the folks at, which causes me to reassess my interpretation of this as a possible precursor… Kevin and Rebecca read the date as 1349, not 1369, which would date this rug to 1991. My original comment was as follows…

This rug shows a cityscape dominated by a zig-zag road, with traffic and vehicles on the roads and around the border. At the top you’ll see a flight of six aeroplanes. At first this seemed like an early war rug, but then we noticed the date – 1349, or 1970. It would be nice to find other examples which are precursors to the classic “war rug” types and categories. This one has had a hard life, with holes and repairs, but it has survived with a wonderful golden sheen.


Unidentified Flying Object

May 14, 2004


One of the innovative characteristics of this genre is the way in which iconic figures appear which are neither characteristic of traditional rug motifs (that is, non-figurative rugs, or at least those not within the familiar sub-categories of the “war rug” genre) nor are they icons which we recognise as part of the repertoire of armaments in other war rugs.

While it’s clear that there are certain figures and emblems which are morphing over time – such as those which are ambiguously both referencing a weapon or other armaments while at the same time a symbol which has its roots in ancient iconography. Often such ambiguities reinforce the theme of the fragile coexistence of Life and Death. Within the cartographic category, there are often spaces around the maps in which all kinds of motifs may be lodged. (And this map deserves a separate discussion of its various texts and calligraphic flourishes at a later point in time). But what is this UFO?


Why Christopher Kremmer doesn’t like war rugs

May 13, 2004

Christopher Kremmer (author of The Carpet Wars, 2002) surprised his audience in his opening speech at the opening of the first exhibition of The Rugs of War, and the Australian National University School of Art Gallery, 13 June, 2003. When we asked him to open the show, he admitted, he decided “I must make a confession; I never liked war rugs.”

Notwithstanding this provocative introduction (hence my title above) many of those present found his eloquent comments on why these works deserve closer attention extremely moving:

Their authors may have been illiterate in their own languages… but that didn’t stop them articulating their response to the madness of the war that was destroying their country. Simultaneously, they recorded history, and turned it into art.

Read the full text on the Embassy of Afghanistan website here.

Aerial Attack

May 13, 2004


Ian McLean of the University of Western Australia) sends this small war rug with the following comments:

I bought my rug in 1990 or there abouts, from a travelling rug merchant in Launceston [Tasmania]. He later opened a shop in Hobart (more or less in the centre of the city) and may still be there. It was the only war rug he had. I had not heard of them before and purchased it immediately.

Smaller rugs compress and exaggerate familiar elements and thus have an added pictorial intensity: this work appears to be an image of planes or bombs falling on a vehicle with an anti-aircraft weapon pointing upwards – and its framing structure suggests the format of a prayer rug. Images like this tend to be unique, and therefore may be reflective of the particular experience of their maker.

Life and death images

May 12, 2004

I’m intrigued to know whether there are precedents for this kind of war rug detail – where idealised representations of nature (with all the symbolic implications that carries for the experiences of the Baluch people over the last twenty five years) are literally invaded by alien material. In this case, we could lead off into another sub-category of the genre – like the many representations of the Kalashnikov… for a later day, perhaps.


deer copy.jpg

Translate inscription?

May 11, 2004

Here’s a detail of this evocative Baluch war rug featuring a mosque in a cityscape: is this inscription translatable?

mosque detail.JPG


Source of a Narrative?

May 4, 2004

We’ve called this extraordinary image “The Story of Jahan Bahksh” which we’ve derived from the various translations of its text. (I’ll post the most complete transcription and comment on the problems of translation in due course.)

However I’ve only seen the upper register of this image once before (Plate 38 in Frembgen and Mohm – details are in the bibliography).

Subsequently, references to the ancient story of Rostam and Akvan have emerged, categorised in “modern Narratives” in the sidebar. Alternatively, search under Rostam for a list of relevant posts.


The Rugs of War Exhibition, Plate 1: “The Story of Jahan Bahksh”, c.1990s Baluch style, knotted woollen carpet, woollen warp, 2070 x 2820 mm. Collection Peter Bellas, Brisbane.

Further posts discussing this image can be found here, and also in Jasleen Dhamija’s catalogue essay.

I have written further about this rug in Artlink #49 v23 #1 (unfortunately the full text is no longer online).

rugsofwar Banner

May 4, 2004

I’ve had a number of comments about the banner I’ve chosen for rugsofwar (above). This is a detail of a recent work which shows what cruise missiles flying over what appears to be a cross-sectional view of a bunker. Cruise missiles are also appearing in other contemporary war rugs. Watch this space for the full picture!

Peter Hill review: “Front Line of Ideas”

May 3, 2004

Sydney Morning Herald visual arts critic Peter Hill reviewed the Adelaide Festival exhibition of The Rugs of War (March 13-14, 2004, Spectrum pp 8-9) in its relation to the contemporary works in the Adelaide Biennale of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

While Peter’s conclusion “These rugs… could almost have been included within the Adelaide Biennale of Australian Art” is the first to speculate how these works might be seen in the same frame as the rest of contemporary art, this is one of the motivating interests of Tim and myself in continuing to explore these works. More of Peter’s comments over the fold.