Archive for July, 2006

Anti-Soviet Socialist Realism

July 24, 2006

From the archive: former US Army Ordnance Officer Tatiana Divens (see bibliography) has sent us a copy of an invitation to one of the first exhibitions of Afghan war rugs in North America, featuring (see her script) “The ‘Mother Afghanistan’ rug of R. Neil [Reynolds]”.

The Mother Afghanistan Rug1.jpg

Inside the invitation, she has noted that “exactly 34 people showed up between 23 October – 18 December”. This reflects the decline of interest in war rugs in the early 1990s, which was remarked on by Tim in his catalogue essay (extract below).

final invite insides.jpg

F&M original.JPG

A version of this rug is featured in an online extract of Frembgen and Mohm’s 2000 book “Lebensbaum und Kalashnikow” (full details are in the bibliography; the online catalogue links are in the sidebar under the heading “War Rug Links”.)

To my mind, a number of aspects of this particular rug remain unresolved:

1. Was it made in 1980, at the start of the period of Soviet occupation, or later, referring (that is, approximately) to that date? The suggestion in Frembgen & Mohm is that it was made in the refugee camps in Pakistan. That would reinforce the suggestion that a later date is appropriate for its attribution. (At least we know it was made pre-1993).

2. The text is unusual for its unusual critical/sarcastic/bitter tone. This is not evidenced in any other war rug I have seen. In addition, the origin of the image is clearly external, either Soviet Socialist Realism in origin, or having its origin in some other anti-war poster tradition, as Frembgen & Mohm suggests. Does this suggest that the whole rug is the product of an outsider? If so, this would reinforce perhaps the later date attribution.

The description of the rug in Frembgen & Mohm is translated as follows:

Pattern construction and motifs: The composition of this highly stylised picture carpet (without border/trimming) showing a heroic representation of an Afghan mother was obviously/apparently copied from a political poster. With her left arm the woman protectively clasps her child, the right is stretched straight upwards in order to repel a rocket (with hammer and sickle). Burning ruins and the blue sky of Afghanistan form the background. At the lower contour there is a border of latin letters, which shows the English sentence:Just an example of Russian humanitarian help to the bereaved nations of the world. Afghanistan in 1980. There are carpets of the same series with a border/trimming.

Picture statement: Attached poster with accusation to the (?)Kriegsgräuel committed by the Soviets.

Origin: Probably Turkmen or Uzbek from a refugee camp in Pakistan, size: 132 x 87 cm.

On the question of the declining popularity of Afghan war rugs in the nineties, Tim Bonyhady has written (in the Rugs of War essay “Out of Afghanistan”):

Yet within two or three years [of 1990] this interest had plummeted in most countries. While some war rugs continued to be made in Pakistan by refugees – increasingly, it seems, by men rather than by women – it soon became a commonplace that weavers who had made them were returning to traditional designs. Most rug dealers, whether in Pakistan, Europe, the United States or Australia, came to regard war rugs not so much as novelties but as oddities which at best might be a peripheral part of their business. As a result, many dealers did not bother to stock these rugs, while others kept a few but made little of them. Art dealers and collectors generally ignored them. The few articles about them in English were often negative. One contributor to the Oriental Rug Review dismissed them as a ‘degenerative design export product’.

Updated to add:

We have located the following images in Maurice Rickards’ Posters of Protest and Revolution (New York: Walker and Company, 1970).

The first is a 1924 poster by German artist Kathe Kollwitz. The image became famous as a Vietnam war protest poster in the USA; the text reads “No more war”:

Nie wieder Krieg

The second is even more interesting, paralleling as it does even more closely the design of the “Mother Afghanistan” rug – could it be the model for the rug itself? The image is from a 1966 poster by Veniamin Markovich Briskin, and the text reads “Imperialism is war!”.

Imperialism is War!

More of Briskin’s designs can be found at this Russian site.

Another cityscape – with a text cloud overhead

July 17, 2006


Here’s another rug depicting an exotic city – modernised, sky-scrapered, idealised… Who knows what such images must mean to the makers of such rugs? Who knows who is the designer, whose sense of the demands of the marketplace drives such productions? While this is not a “war rug” by our normal measure – the presence of weapons and armaments of various kinds – what are we to make of the ominous black cloud in the sky? While the letters which make up this text are mainly derived from alien alphabets, there are also graphic forms that we don’t recognise.


Is this a Sydney Harbour Bridge “war rug”?

July 8, 2006


Previous posts have speculated about the subject matter of these mystery bridge war rugs. This example is the closest we’ve yet seen to fitting the actual appearance of the “coathanger”, as it’s known locally. It is large, of floppy construction, and appears to use contemporary synthetic dyes – see for example the cerulean blue sky. Like the others, there are elements of flat weave, and generous borders, suggesting a common origin. If we follow the conventional wisdom that images are more abstracted through the process of copying, perhaps this is the earliest of the three? Can any readers shed light on the origin of this image? See details below, and photographs, to see why we find this attribution so persuasive…


Designer or artisan: who is the author?

July 2, 2006


Here is another question at the core of the problem of interpretation: many war rugs demonstrate “mistakes” made by the artisans who produce them. We see many letters, words, phrases which indicate that the weavers who make the rugs “read” their image from other rugs – and if it’s easier to read the pixels from the back of a rug, how easy would it be to mistakenly weave the mirror image of individual letters, words, or whole images? Surely this is why it is the nature of so many traditional rug patterns for the image to be bilaterally symmetrical? That is, to build an image, knot by knot is less a matter of transposing images or motifs as it is a mathmatical task, transmitted as a linear sequence, left to right, right to left, knot by knot. It is surely a more a problem of memorising sequences across each file and progressive variations as the image is built – in this instance, the first wefts are on the right hand side, which is the bottom of the rug.