Anti-Soviet Socialist Realism

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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.

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