Archive for April, 2017

One half of an imaginary conversation.

April 25, 2017

Imagine you are the head of a carpet-making family living in the province of Herat, in western Afghanistan. Since the late seventies your life has been continuously disrupted by political coups, uprisings, air raids, then a decade of occupation by Soviet forces, puppet dictatorships, civil war, the domination of the Taliban, their overthrow by foreign military coalition, and continuing political unrest. Despite all of this, your region in Afghanistan is one of the most peaceful.

During these forty years, your extended family has managed to eke out a living by making carpets. Most of these have been repeats of traditional patterns and designs, which you have traded both locally and across the borders in Iran and Pakistan. It is a precarious business. A large carpet might take your team of women and children six months to make. Your family business is founded on fine craftsmanship, and fine, colourful wools – even though the dyes are now all synthetic, and some of the colours are bolder than they were in the past. You invest a lot of your earnings in securing the raw material from which your rugs are made.

The women who manage your production pride themselves in the quality of their handiwork, and even though you are in charge of the overall design, your makers insert elaborate details to fill the empty spaces, and they take pride in the decorative flat-weave “skirts” at the top and bottom of the rug. These minor elements are like the anonymous makers’ “signature”, and they reveal the degree to which the makers may vary the overall design. Equally, the makers may insert pieces of text that both explain the design, and reflect their own perspective on the difficulties of their life circumstances. (more…)