Is this a “war rug”?


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…

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