Archive for October, 2004

Transitional Baluch

October 29, 2004


Of the hundred or so Afghan War Rugs in I have seen in Australian collections, this is the one that is most characteristically “Baluch”, that is, identifiable as the work of the nomadic peoples most often associated with the war rug tradition. It’s an important identification to be making, for there is a real identity crisis among the rugs of the war era in terms of conventional modes of identification.

In the rug world, identifying styles and subject matter by the ethnic origins of its makers and speculations about its place of manufacture are the terms in which “authenticity” is argued. And yet, as anthropologist Brian Spooner reminds us*, such matters are highly speculative and dependent on the lore of the dealer, transmitted through many interpretations along the path from maker to its ultimate buyer.

However, as I have argued elsewhere (including in this catalogue essay) in the era of war, occupation, internal conflict, fundamentalism and anarchy, the nomadic peoples who were the makers of “Baluch” rugs left Afghanistan for Iran and Pakistan, and after two decades we see an incredibly unpredictable diasporic tradition, producing new forms, new content, and using whatever materials are available in their new locations and conditions as political and culturally displaced communities.

In this context rugs like the one shown here (difficult to photograph due to its size) are important benchmarks because they reach backwards and forwards in time. This rug is the favourite of my local Afghan rug dealer because the colours, materials and style of decoration are closest to the Baluch tradition, while its content and imagery speak about the experiences and threats of war.

For these reasons it sits in the middle of the tradition, and I would speculate that it is datable to the late eighties, on the basis of its size and materials, suggesting that it was made in a relatively stable context where the makers were still in contact with the sources of traditional materials and dyes. Hence the qualities so admired amongst pre-war Baluchi rugs – the variations in weave, the abrash which activates the blue sky, its surface qualities and handle.

We have not yet identified the city it represents, and there is no text to help us, and indeed the elements of such cityscapes may be highly abstracted, representing an idealised world (perhaps already lost) invaded by the apparatus of war.

* The text of Spooner’s article ‘Weavers and Dealers: The Authenticity of an Oriental Carpet’, in Arjun Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) is not available online.

Headline texts?

October 25, 2004


For this kind of map (halfway between geography and geometry) I’m curious to know what the texts surrounding the image are saying. Help, anyone?





Date of creation or date of commemoration?

October 25, 2004


Text in English, so clearly a foreign audience in mind…


Sorry about the toe!

Tales of the unexpected

October 19, 2004

Here are two details from the virtual map image below: first, a vestigial helicopter, secondly an upside down tank with a most unlikely text… We’re used to seeing strange variations on what might be Cyrillic Soviet text on the sides of tanks, but subliminal advertising???


Another kind of transformation of the map of Afghanistan

October 19, 2004

Two new war rugs out of Pakistan show how forms and motifs which you would normally expect to have some stability (like the emblematic map outline of a country) may also be transformed into images more like the non-figurative forms and devices from which these rugs originate.


In this first instance those who are familiar with the “Victory over the Soviets” map images – which show the Soviet forces heading home along the diagonal north-western pathway, leading from the northern border of a recognizable map of the country – will be somewhat surprised to see the geography reduced to this symmetrical golden “virtual” Afghanistan. Without that north-western pathway, the significance of the central motif would be meaningless.


Again, here’s a recent variation to the same approach. In this instance the rug is symmetrical top and bottom, with zig-zag roads full of tanks, with helicopters and missiles in the skies above. And in this instance the map-like form in the centre (map-like in this instance because it is divided like those maps which show the different provinces) has been morphed to quite different effect. In each case the significance of the abstracted “map” indicates how multivalent forms may convey multiple references, linking their traditional origins with new meanings and effects.



October 19, 2004

I’ve just tracked a reference (legitimate or not) to the city of Jalalabad as the image which is the background to the three cruise missiles I’ve used as the banner for the blog. Can anyone verify this?

Here’s the original post.

The re-emergence of decoration

October 6, 2004


These three “war rugs” from the Bell Private Collection display a recent tendency to reinvent the elaborate decorative structures of the Baluch rug tradition, where the elements which signify the presence of war and armed conflict are being repressed, made almost invisible, yet remain as potent reminders of the circumstances of their makers.


These three rugs seem quite new, and are probably the products of Afghan diasporic communities now based in Pakistan. Given the past 10 years of trauma which has resulted in the semi-permanent displacement of many makers previously identified as Baluch nomads, is it time to come up with a new term for such rugs?


It now seems appropriate to identify a whole new genre of rugs with hybridised origins, where no secure and consistent links to “tradition” (in the sense of identifying a rug as “Baluch” or “Chechen” based on its primary motifs etc.) may be argued, and where in a postmodern sense, forms and subject matter are borrowed from a variety of sources.

Maybe a discussion should take place around this new category (as with these examples) “diasporic Afghan” rugs, rather than “Baluch” or other ethnic attributions?