Archive for April, 2006

Portrait rug 7: Ahmed Shah Masood

April 24, 2006


Thanks to for this image. The text reads (loosely) “The great General of the Mujahideen, knowledgeable in relious matters, the leader of Afghanistan resistance, the martyr [in red] Ahmed Shah Masood”

Thanks to Max Allen for the following image:


Max interprets the tracer-like paths aiming towards his face plus the mark on his forehead as a representation of his assassination… And given that this is a recent production, and therefore commemorative in nature, these elements can be thought of as a symbolic anticipation of the horrific actual event (his death is reported to have been caused by a bomb disguised as a video camera). Given these circumstances, to show him kneeling as if in prayer gives the scene additional gravitas.

See also the following biodata from Wikipedia:

Ahmed Shah Masood (احمد شاه مسعود) (c. 1953 – September 9, 2001) (variant transliterations include Ahmad, Massoud, etc.) was a Kabul University engineering student turned Afghan military leader who played a leading role in driving the Soviet army out of Afghanistan, earning him the nickname Lion of Panjshir.

Massoud was an ethnic Tajik who was charismatic and respected by a faction of the Afghan population. In the early 1990s he became Defence Minister under President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Following the collapse of Rabbani’s government and the rise of the Taliban regime, Massoud became the military leader of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of various armed Afghani opposition groups, in a prolonged civil war. As the Taliban established control over most of Afghanistan, Massoud’s forces were increasingly forced into the mountainous areas of the north, where they controlled some 10% of Afghanistan’s territory and perhaps 30% of its population until late 2001. He was assassinated on September 9, 2001.

Portrait rug 6: Hamid Karzai

April 22, 2006

Thanks to

The following biodata from Wikipedia:

Hamid Karzai (Pushtu: حامد کرزي, Dari: حامد کرزی) (born December 24, 1957) is the current and first democratically elected President of Afghanistan (since December 7, 2004). Since December 2001, Hamid Karzai had been Chairman of the Transitional Administration and been Interim President from 2002.

Portrait Rug 5: Khumaini

April 22, 2006


This image from Kevin Sudeith at

Other examples show that this image is in mass production – the only variations from one to the next is in such details as the sequence of colours in the border.

Portrait Rug 4: Khomeini

April 22, 2006


This image thanks to Kevin Sudeith from

The text in white appears to be a (mystic) love poem in praise of K, admiring his beauty (the mole on his lip), and e.g. “lovesick at the beauty of your eyes”, and “without the love of K you cannot love Muhammad al Mahdi (the 12th Imam)”.

And see the text in white below the image, remarkably contradicting the kind of orthodoxy we might associate with Khomieni: “They open the door of the drinking house and we go there day and night as we are sick of going to the mosque and the school.”

For information about Muhammad al Mahdi, see the Encylopedia of the Orient.

From Wikipedia:
Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini (Persian: آیت الله روح الله خمینی Arabic: آية الله روح الله الخميني) (May 17, 1900? – June 3, 1989) was a Shi’a Muslim cleric and marja, and the political and spiritual leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution which saw the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. Following the Revolution, Khomeini held the office of Supreme Leader, the paramount figure in the political system of the new Islamic Republic, and retained this position until his death.

Khomeini was considered a spiritual leader to many Shi’a Muslims, and in Iran is officially addressed as Imam rather than Ayatollah, and his supporters also adhere to this convention.

Portrait Rug 3: Stalin

April 16, 2006


This is a rug which Muhammad Sajid (at has estimated to be more than 30 years old. We have no information as to where it was made – or who could achieve such extraordinary photographic verisimilitude? When it came to venerating their “great leaders”, nobody surpassed Stalinist regimes. Pity the poor workers who built this remarkable image knot by knot…



and here’s another:


This rug is described as follows: “made by Tekke women of Turkmenistan, who built this remarkable image knot by knot. Very extraordinary rug, all hand made using wool base and wool weft. All dyes are from natural sources. Measurements: 47″ x 31″. Made in circa 1980s.”

The “I” may stand for Josef, but I have not been able to find a “w” as the initial of Stalin’s middle name… The dates refer to the duration of the Soviet involvement in WW2.


Portraiture and figuration in rugs

April 15, 2006

The following account of figuration in Iranian rugs is to be found at, based in Vancouver, Canada – the webmaster is the photographer Masoud Soheili.

I’ll be making contact to find out the author of this entry…

The 20th century must be known as reveal(ing) portrait making in Iran. Since, in this century, there was considerable attention toward portrait and naturalism; portrait making was attracted by artists and craftsmen, as (a) public movement.

Print curtain makers were the first artists who joined (the) portrait movement and instead of using usual flowers, they printed pictures of (the) old and classic tales and myth(s) of Iran on curtains, in large scale, such as Khosro and Shirin, (and) Leili and Majnoun. Printed portrait curtains found their ways to people’s houses; urban rug weavers were interested … and very soon, this became their patterns.

Printed portrait curtains were ideal for rug weavers, in all ways, as (the) size and composition of it were almost the same as those of the rug. As it has (a) margin (and) ground … it was not far from nature of rug. So, some of portrait rugs were woven from printed curtains; these rugs were called “Curtain”, as well as rug sellers have used this expression, yet. (more…)

War rugs are also in Karabakh

April 8, 2006

I can’t illustrate this post, but last night on SBS television I watched the last program in a BBC series hosted by Simon Reeve “Holidays in Places that don’t exist”. It’s the program that Graham Gower had written to us about here.

The story was located in the breakaway province of Nagorno Karabakh (Artzak), between Azerbaijan and Armenia. On a visit to a carpet shop where Reeve was looking for a wedding present a war rug is discussed in terms of familiar war rug icons, plus (significantly) a text promoting the independence movement. The transcript reads as follows:

David (Simon Reeve’s guide)
“…it’s very common to depict, you know, symbols of Karabakh on carpets.

Simon Reeve
Some carpets serve as reminders of the war (?) That is a rocket propelled grenade I think. A machine gun over here. Tank here, anti-aircraft guns here. Another tank here. What does it say here?

This say that you have to be powerful to have rights.

The full transcript is here.

on cruise missiles and ufos

April 7, 2006


Max Allen has discovered this image of the George Washington Bridge in NYC. Compare with the image below, which we have always had trouble interpreting… It seems this is another one of those instances where images morph through repetition, through different generations of copyists, and in this instance acquiring new content. These looked like Tomahawk cruise missiles to me, but can we be certain of anything?


Here we find an example of the nature of progressive abstraction, where motifs tend towards geometric simplification, losing detail generation by generation… However in this case, the origins of the cruise missiles (above the Hudson River) are somewhat clouded.



Militaria in weavings from Laos

April 7, 2006


Angela Cincotta, a colleague here at the ANU, has just shown me these two examples of woven textiles from Laos. She says:

They’re both from Sekong province in southeastern Laos. The sarong is from Kaleum district, a very remote district bordering on Vietnam. It could be twenty or so years old and was definitely worn, but the woman who sold it to me couldn’t remember when it was woven. It was made on a traditional back-strap loom by an ethnic Nge woman. The other piece was made for commercial purposes and bought in the provincial capital of Sekong. I think it’s also ethnic Nge, but it could be Katu. It was also done on a traditional Mon-Khmer style loom but obviously doesn’t use traditional dimensions for clothing.



Dr Andrea Gaynor, a lecturer in History at the University of Western Australia has sent these examples, with the following observations:

I believe works of this type are traditionally produced by the Nge people. Both were bought in Sekong, in southern Laos, in December 2001. Although far from an expert in such matters, I would guess that the black cloth in the image below is around 30 years old: the fabric has deteriorated, and it was relatively expensive (purchased from a small stall selling various old stuff). The other is a contemporary production, bought in the local market (where it was found among other sarongs probably intended primarily for local use).  The area is not especially touristy (only one small place to stay), but it’s possible the more recent weavings incorporate the helicopter designs because they are perceived as collectable.