Archive for August, 2005

Three more variations on the Mosque at Herat

August 31, 2005

The text says “Herat Afghanistan”.

The same text appears in the lower register in this rug, but is to be read from above.

Below is an image of a similar rug Graham Gower has sent in from his collection. No aeroplanes, missiles, or explosions in the sky, but tanks on the street – and one with a wheel missing. None of the borders relate to each other in these four examples, which suggests none of them where made by the same hands.

And let’s not try to interpret the rules of the road in Herat from these images!

The Mosque in Herat

August 30, 2005

This cityscape rug is another sent by Kevin Sudeith of showing the mosque in Herat. He bought this from the private collection of an Afghan carpet dealer.

Kevin refers this image to these two examples on his site for comparison, even though this example has an degree of simplification and stylisation which is quite engaging…

I’ll be loading some further examples of this image in the next days.

Mosque City

August 26, 2005

Another contribution from Kevin Sudeith of

P.S. – readers may post a comment (by following the “No Comments” or “Comments” link below, or you may communicate or send .jpeg images by email, from which I can insert or load as posts…

Mosque at peace

August 25, 2005

Jim Cotter submits this variant on the pre-war mosque motif. Compare with the previous post where we found a similar early Baluch rug in Parsons…

In appearance it appears to be about 20 years old, but it has had no wear, so it’s hard to tell whether it dates all the way back to the pre-war era. While the main field colour is this strange bleached blue-grey (which we’ve never seen before), and its handle is quite coarse, the kilim ends show a degree of care in its production.

We think the seven minarets is a very interesting (and unusual?) device.

“War in Afghanistan”

August 24, 2005

…is the translation of the title of this rug.

This cityscape rug is another sent by Kevin Sudeith of showing a city dominated by mosques as the most significant buildings. There is an interesting figure reaching out of the brown square in the bottom middle. We’re both curious as to how to interpret this motif.

P.S. Readers may post a comment (by following the “No Comments” or “Comments” link below, or you may communicate or send .jpeg images by email, from which I can insert or load as posts…

Even in Paradise

August 21, 2005

Kevin Sudeith of sends this breathtaking image in response to my recent call for the identity of the makers of the first “mosques under threat” rug. Despite the different subject matter Kevin noticed the distinctive border – see the comparison below. (I have not been able to identify the alternating figures, which we’ve nicknamed “caterpillars” and “scorpions” – but clearly this “signature style” links the rugs to the same workshop or village.)

Kevin identifies this rug as Turkmen, which he calls “Al Khwaaja”. You can see the full details and description of this rug on Kevin’s site here.

At first glance this golden rug seems to be totally distinct from the “war rug” tradition we’re discussing in these pages. It shows an apparently idyllic scene of shepherds with their flocks of domestic animals, seemingly at one with the natural world represented by wild animals and birdlife. Yet look closely. Even in this paradisical setting you will find the evidence of conflict in the form of miniature Kalashnikovs.

These rugs shock the viewer by the subtlety of their contrast between the immediate aesthetic response to the sheer beauty of form in the depiction of their subject matter – followed by the adrenaline rush of horror and fear as the implications of the contradictory elements of their subject matter become apparent. Beauty and fear is not new as a complex aesthetic response – but perhaps we do not expect it to emerge from the cauldron of modern conflict. Here’s Sabur Fahiz’ image we began with…

P.S. Readers may post a comment (by following the “No Comments” or “Comments” link below), or you may communicate or send .jpeg images by email, from which I can insert or load as posts…

A pre-war Baluch Mosque rug

August 15, 2005

A search through Parsons (Parsons, R.D., Oriental Rugs, Volume 3, The Carpets of Afghanistan, 1990) reveals this beautiful “old” Baluch rug (plate 67a, a “Kizilayak prayer rug from an area southwest of Herat”).

This rug, plus three other less complex examples (plates 44, 57, 90), are direct precursors to the images of “mosques under threat” posted in the past few weeks. They reveal how the rug designer freely refers to the architectural details of the mosque to construct the directional structures of a prayer rug. While this may begin by referring to some specific mosque, clearly the artist may elaborate and emphasise all those elements which confirm the characteristics of this subject as a sacred site.

The architecture allows figuration without the representation of the human form. That is, the motifs such as the multiple towers and repeats of archways, doors and gardens all reinforce and confirm the characteristics which connote a sacred space – a space therefore imaginatively occupied by the Muslim devotee, wherever he may be.

Thus, we could argue, the images of mosques under threat, or invaded, or defiled (such as those listed here) convey the reality of war in a doubly transgressive manner, with religious as well as a political dimensions.

I’d appreciate any further references to examples of mosque images, both from the 1980s onward, and to precedents such as this.

P.S. Readers may post a comment, or communicate or send .jpeg images by email, from which I can insert load as posts…


August 14, 2005


This rug from the Graham Gower collection is attributed to the early period of “war rugs” It shows mosque buildings located within a cityscape, permeated by the apparatus of war.  Graham comments:

A superb example of an Afghan War townscape rug. Visually well constructed and full of detail. Probably representing Kabul or a similar large town in Afghanistan. Note the antenna and the various architecturally styles and buildings. This rug shows an amount of wear, particularly a worn pile, however it is in very good condition and woven with a quality wool. This rug is probably a first generation rug, woven during the early 1980s, and carries border design of military equipment, a style seen on a number of early war rugs. Size 4ft 10 inches x 2ft 10 inches.


Is this a “war rug”?

August 11, 2005

This is a rug bought in Adelaide in the early 1990s, which is an interesting chronological reference point for some of its formal characteristics – such as the speckled combined weave field – which I have always supposed was a late innovation dating from the diaspora of the Baluch people and other rug-makers to Pakistan. But it’s not strictly a “war rug”, if a war rug must show some kind of armaments. But does it tell a story which relates to the effects of war?

However this image is a mystery to me – and I have always wondered whether its architectural forms suggest a before-and-after narrative of the destruction of some significant building, perhaps an abstraction of a mosque.

It is open to many interpretations. Some say the central figure in the upper register is some kind of figurative monument, like a toy robot, flanked by symmetrical towers – like structures, buildings on stilts, trees, etc.  Perhaps these figures are recognisable abstractions, perhaps the clues to their identity are revealed through comparison with the changes apparent in the asymmetrical lower register.

Let me describe what I see. In the lower register the pictorial field is expanded, and the central architectonic form now sits in a pink speckled receding space, with a fence in the foreground. The central ‘figure’ has now gained a foundation and what may be steps. The left side of the lateral form (‘arms’, if it is a figure) is missing, the left hand tower like form is missing, but on the right of the central form there is a new blue and white checker pattern vertical structure, and the right hand tower is distorted to the right.

Two more of the blue vertical structures are sitting in the background, alongside new architectural features. A smaller version of the same is in the upper right corner of the lower register (are these rockets of some kind? if not, this isn’t a “war rug” if the category depends on the presence of armaments, but read on …)

The left hand “stilt” structure with a tree is as in the top register, but on the lower right the tree is now topped with a kind of crown, and sits on some other foundational structures, which enter the foreground space, next to a bridge-like structure.

And the most unusual form in the lower half is the diagonal white form split into several “branches” at the top. Perhaps this is a tree, and the whole scene is beginning to look like a translation of a blue-and white Chinese ceramic “willow pattern” design, translated into Baluch-style forms?

When I first saw this rug, I wanted to see it as some kind of before-and-after narrative, as if the top register showed a mosque or some other significant monument intact, and below, the tree ambiguously like trail of an incoming missile, distorting the symmetry of the structures above, and knocking off the uppermost structure. Of course this may be a kind of wish-projection, as often happens with cross-cultural interpretations of highly coded visual imagery. (Graham Gower has interesting things to say about the difficulty of interpreting such images from afar in his discussion page). Or there may be something to it. I don’t know. But that’s the mystery that keeps me looking, and wondering, fifteen years after I first saw it.

So, is it a war rug?

How do others read it?

P.S. Readers may post a comment, or communicate or send .jpeg images by email, from which I can insert load as posts…

Sacred site/political site

August 10, 2005

In war rugs such as these there are numerous examples of missiles and aircraft in the sky above what is otherwise a peaceful representation of a cityscape dominated by the two mosques. Nothing seems quite as it should be, and sometimes the contrast between the sacred space of the mosque, and the mundane (if terrifying) space of a world overflown by cruise missiles gives examples such as these a strikingly persuasive reality.

In addition, these buildings now have flags flying – indicating a conjunction between the religious and the political.

My knowledge of the precursors to these rugs is not deep enough to assert whether the representations of mosques as sacred sites in a new form of political symbolism. That is, are there earlier representations of Mosques as sacred sites in the pictorial traditions which precede the Soviet era?  Or does the depiction of the Mosque emerge in the post-1979 era of the war rug, specifically associated with representations of the Mosque under threat and invaded by armaments?

P.S. I’m afraid that until we sort out spam blocking and security on this server comments will have to be sent by email, at which point I can insert them into the posts…