External influences: Land Mine warning

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Images such as this suggest the influence of outsiders in the design, production and purpose of some war rugs. While this is a much larger issue than the specific questions raised by this example, the whole nature of the design process is something I’d like to know much more about.

The construction of this rug is among the finest I have encountered, suggesting a high degree of control over the circumstances of its production. Perhaps the outcome of an NGO initiative in a Pakistan refugee camp? The precision of the English text suggests a designer with a high degree of literacy. And, of course, the fact that the text is in English suggests, contradictorily, that the intended market was the outside world, far from the problem depicted…

The English text reads: “IF YOU SEE ONE MINE THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MANY OTHERS AROUND IT”, and, “RETURNING HOME DISCOURAGING AFGHANS FRAM 10 TO 30 MILLION MINES”

This rug is in the Sydney collection of Richard Elliott. Elliot’s role in the collecting of rugs for the Sydney art dealer Ray Hughes is described in Tim Bonyhady’s essay in The Rugs of War, an extract of which is over the fold:

… war rugs retained the capacity to excite new audiences in other countries as the art dealer, Ray Hughes, demonstrated in Sydney. His enthusiasm for these rugs was part of a taste for tribal art, which started in the 1960s when he saw New Guinea masks and tapa cloths in Brisbane, but only became substantial in 1992 when he went to west Africa for the first time. Hughes’ main acquisitions on this trip were medicine and barber shop signs from the Ivory Coast which he exhibited in his gallery after returning to Australia early in 1993, but he also returned with a small number of embroidered hats commemorating the first Gulf War from Kana in northern Nigeria which he kept for himself.

Hughes’ opportunity to secure war rugs came almost immediately through Richard Elliott, whose father Peter had already seen war rugs in the bazaar at Peshawar in 1983 and then bought several on another visit. When Richard Elliott decided to visit Pakistan in 1993, he talked to Hughes who had already read about war rugs in a Trans-World Airlines in-flight magazine and seen them at Cadry’s exhibition at the State Library in Sydney. While Elliott bought a few rugs in Islamabad, he acquired most in Peshawar, where several dealers in the bazaar had war rugs though many had none. Much like Joyce Ware in 1989, Elliott was struck by their variety. In all, he probably looked at two hundred war rugs ranging from small mats to large carpets, saw at most three or four versions of any one design and returned to Sydney with thirty-six rugs.

When Hughes exhibited these rugs at his gallery in mid-1993 – at the same time as a show of the work of the contemporary New Zealand artist, Jeff Thomson – every rug sold to a typical mix of the collectors, artists, art historians and curators who frequented Hughes’ shows. Many would-be collectors were also disappointed to discover these rugs too late. So Elliott made another trip to Pakistan later in the year only to find that war rugs were much scarcer in Peshawar as part of the larger decline in their production. In all he probably saw only about one hundred rugs and bought about fifty – some of which he sold himself, while Hughes sold the rest without bothering to mount a formal exhibition as demand for them was so great.

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