More on the Realist War Rug…

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Josephine Jasperse has send more images of details of this fine silk rug from her collection, including this photograph of the reverse side.

She interprets it as showing the destruction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul, in 1989.

Kevin Sudeith has done some more research and suggests the architectural structure on the right side of Josephine’s rug is the Royal Palace in Kabul, as seen here.

Kevin refers us to this quote from Gordon Sharpless’ account in Tales of Asia:

We continued to Darulaman. This area was designed in 1923 by King Amanullah with the intention to have it the seat of the nation’s government. Included is (was) a large palace that must have been something to behold prior to the war. It is now almost completely destroyed. It is possible to walk around inside, but do so carefully. It’s pure rubble. Across the street from the palace is the still-closed Kabul Museum… heavily destroyed, apparently there is little left to put on display anyway.

Kevin adds that the arch on the left side of the field is the Pargham Lake Arch.

Here are some more details of the vignettes in the border areas:

Kevin further suggests the flag held by the horseman on the bottom left is a Taliban flag – see this image from Wikipedia – but I’m not so sure the image is clear enough to draw this conclusion.

Is there enough evidence to attribute a political position to this image? In a recent email, Kevin continues:

The Soviet tanks and the Royal Palace burning together suggests a pro-taliban political message… [however the use of] figuration is very anti-taliban-esque, so perhaps [this is] a Pakistani or Persian production?

We will need to see more examples of this genre to draw further conclusions.

From our outsider vantage point, this rug further complicates our questions about the design process – of both this rug, and by implication, the more traditional forms of the “war rug”. The Realist rug suggests the cartoon owes a lot to photographic sources, but that remains to be seen.

In general, we ask: who is the author? What is the design process? How are the original cartoons drawn up? Are rugs copied from one to the other? If rugs are copied pixel-by-pixel from the backs of other rugs, this would explain how frequently texts and even the map of Aghanistan appears in mirror-image on the front of the rug – which is not a problem for traditional imagery which uses bilateral symmetry in one or both axes.

The other significant question raised by the Realist Rug is the question of style. if it weren’t so overtly anti-Soviet, you would assume the artist/designer was trained in Moscow (or elsewhere in the former Soviet Union) in the style of Soviet Socialist Realism. All of the pictorial devices suggest someone trained within the Western/Soviet tradition – or at least someone visually adept and aware of the inheritance of the nineteenth century schools of Romanticism and Realism. Add to this the structures and devices of collage and montage, and only the material qualities of the rug identify it with the cultural context of Afghanistan and its neighbours. I’m thinking out loud here – but that’s the nature of the blog – and this rug raises exciting questions which take us outside of the ethnographic character of orthodox discussions of rug styles and attribution.

More details of the central parts of this rug may be found at this earlier post.

Comments please…

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3 Responses to “More on the Realist War Rug…”

  1. Nigel Lendon Says:

    Ian McLean (University of Western Australia) writes: The realist rug is great – makes the project more interesting. I don’t see what the issue is of a soviet trained designer having anti-soviet message, and wouldn’t you expect the infiltration of Western and other styles given both the complexity and history of the Afghan conflict and the nature of media today (which the Taliban are adept at)? The soviets had at one time some support in Afghanistan, especially from the urban classes. I would be looking out for elements in more traditional rugs of soviet realism influence.

  2. Nigel Lendon Says:

    Josephine writes: the rug is made for 100% sure in Kabul. Long ago, long before the Russian came in, this type of rugs were made in afghan prisons. They call it ‘persian style rugs’. Very fine knotted, very detailed with patterns as vases – flowers maps etc. The idea was that the prisoners had time enough to make such a fine rugs. Time was not a issue! Later this type of rugs are also made in ateliers in Kabul. They are not so common because of very high price.

    Former owner says, this is the only war rug he saw in this style. Thanks to Kevin for his contribution and remarks.

  3. Stacked Stone Says:

    This is an amazing rug. The pictures and details are fascinating.

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