Archive for the ‘Literature & Catalogues’ Category

The Oriental Rug Society

April 15, 2011

On Wednesday 13th April the Oriental Rug Society of NSW  and the Asian Arts Society of Australia invited Nigel Lendon to present a lecture entitled What? Who? for Whom? and Why? The War Rugs of Afghanistan at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Here Nigel is shown speaking about one of his favourite examples – which demonstrates the diversity of artefacts which can be included in the genre. On screen is a saddle bag collected in Kunduz by the pioneering German collector Hans Werner Mohm. After the lecture several members of the Society brought along examples of different kinds of war rugs, which led to a lively discussion of form and content. Most remarkable were the two precursor rugs owned by the Cadry Family, which celebrate the Turkish defeat of the ANZAC forces at Gallipoli.

Here is the extremely fine silk rug which depicts the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Cannakkale (Gallipoli) Peninsula from (then) an impossible aerial perspective. This example is one of two known to exist, the other being one of the treasures of the national collection in Istanbul. As well as this modernist aerial viewpoint, there are two almost-photographic cartouches which are montaged into the scene, which depict the landscapes of the battlefield. The elaborate calligraphy reveals that this rug was made for presentation to Enver Pasha. Reproductions of both these carpets are to be found in the catalogue of the exhibition mounted by the late Jaques Cadry Woven History: Stories in Carpets which was held at the State Library of New South Wales (1990). This catalogue is also one of the first such publications to include illustrations of war rugs.

Full Plates from Lee Allane’s book

August 28, 2007



Woven Witness: Afghan War Rugs at San Jose

August 27, 2007

Catalogue cover page

I was delighted to be invited to the San Jose Quilt and Textile Museum, in San Jose, California, to participate in a weekend of discussions about war carpets. Two of the three exhibitions – a selection from the Collection of Patricia Markovich, of Oakland, California, plus the travelling exhibition  “Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory” (curated Ariel Zeitlin Cooke, and written with Marsha MacDowell and available here), were of relevance to the study of Afghan war carpets. In addition, the Museum had the Afghan Freedom Quilt on display, and in this catalogue has published (in both English and Farsi) the personal histories of its makers. The stories which emerge in all of these exhibitions and texts remind us of the depths to which the circumstances of war drives its victims, and yet how powerfully evocative are the forms of textile art and communication which result. The catalogue is published by the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, 520 South First Street, San Jose, California 95113-2806. Tel 408.970.0323, The catalogue includes revised versions of the essays first published by Nigel Lendon and Tim Bonyhady in The Rugs of War, 2003.

Trouble in Paradise

August 27, 2007

Book cover

Lee Allane publishes this useful guide, with a wonderful Ali Khojeh rug on the cover. It’s a kind of Garden of Eden image, complete with snake, but the author doesn’t seem to notice it’s also a War Rug, with Kalaschnikovs amongst those wonderful animals and their keepers. And what is the figure-within-a-figure over on the far right hand side?

War rugs in San Jose

August 10, 2007

Follow the link to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, where an exhibition drawn from the collection of Oaklands CA resident, Patricia Markovich, will be on display from August 17…

Accompanying this exhibition, the Museum will also display the Afghan Freedom Quilt: Silenced Voices of the Afghan Diaspora, a collaborative project sponsored by the Foundation for Self-Reliance. The quilt is a collection of blocks made by war widows in Afghanistan and assembled in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pieces sewn for this quilt are symbolic interpretations of what human rights, empowerment, equality, peace, hardship, sisterhood and freedom meant to each individual contributor. The Foundation for Self-Reliance conducts life-skills training and economic empowerment programs for Afghan women immigrants.

Max Allen reviews Enrico Mascelloni: Beyond the West

July 16, 2007

We are pleased to publish the following review of Oltre l’Occidente – Rappresentazioni estreme nei tessuti orientali (2006), which has been the subject of earlier discussions on Rugs of War. Max Allen is the founding curator of the Textile Museum of Canada where, since 1975, he has curated more than 100 textile exhibitions. His review follows:

Exhibition catalogues are sometimes works of scholarship. This one isn’t. Instead it is a work of narrative imagination and polemics, and as such it is a far more striking object than most of the textiles within it. Aside from the fact that everything is from “The East” – as if that meant anything – there is no coherence to the collection, nor any discernible reason for assembling it.


Two new war rug collection catalogues

June 17, 2007


Two new catalogues of Italian collections have been received by rugsofwar. The first, the collection of Amadeo Vittorio Bedini, in Milan, illustrates 28 war rugs. The text is in Italian, and together with Bedini the author Christen Ungennant illustrates the sources of many of the militaria elements in the carpets. The collection is mostly representative of fine examples of the second generation of war rugs (late 1980s and 1990s). We’re awaiting a translation before we can comment on the text. Vittorio assures me the AK47 on the cover illustration is a model!

The second is a wide ranging collection of textiles from the later decades of the 20th century, with 16 examples of war rugs illustrated and discussed (in both Italian and English) by the co-curator/editor/author (and perhaps collector) Erino Mascelloni, from Rome. The catalogue accompanies an exhibition that was held in Todi at the Sala delle Pietre e Monastero delle Lucrezie from December 2006 to February 2007. It’s not clear from the text from which collections these works are drawn, although all the discussions of the texts for war rugs are by Enrico Mascelloni, in a section titled “Asian Modernism”. The author makes a number of claims for an earlier time frame for “war rugs” than accepted by other scholars and collectors, or evidence available to us. He dates some of his “war rugs” back to the 1960s, in one case a rug (purchased in 2006) by interpreting an explicit date woven in the rug (1368/1989 or 1990) by the Turkish calendar! Many of the war rugs have similarly optimistic dates. I will review the text and some of its claims more comprehensively in a later post. The catalogue is published by Skira.

Two collezionisti in Verona

April 17, 2007


Two gentlemen in Verona: Vittorio Bedini and Luca Brancati prepare for the experience of visiting the war rug collection of Sig.Tiziano Meglioranzi in Verona. Signor Bedini has just published a catalogue of his collection, (Tappeti di Guerra Afghani: Diario di un Collezionista, Mestre (VE), aprile 2007) and will prepare an exhibition in Milan later in the year.

Artist profile of Michgan Hozain from ‘Weavings of War’

November 3, 2006

In the catalogue to the exhibition curated by Ariel Zeitlin Cooke “Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory” (written with Marsha MacDowell and available here) is referenced an artist profile of Michgan Hozain, a woman of Hazara origin who teaches weaving and monitors rug quality at a not-for-profit women’s centre in Kabul. The profile is drawn from video interviews conducted by artist and Professor Michael Schnorr in Afghanistan in early 2004.

Michgan Hozain and her son.  Photograph by Michael Schnorr.

Caption: “Like most Afghan weavers, Michgan has a loom at home where she can attend to her son and other domestic duties while she weaves. Photo by Michael Schnorr.”

This account confirms that many men learnt weaving in refugee camps. Michgan’s husband, Merza, had been a weaver before he lived in a Peshawar camp, where (suggests Ariel) it may be that Merza learnt the Turkmen-style knot technique he subsequently taught Michgan. The profile continues:

Some weavers of Afghan war rugs, including Michgan’s own aunts, seem to be expressing in their work their own memories of war and will tell you the exact incidents they are depicting: “This is when the mosque in my village was destroyed.” Michgan, however, says she weaves her war rugs “because they will sell”. When she had been weaving for a few years, her family discovered that war rugs would fetch more money in the marketplace, and so her husband designed a few for them to make, with excellent results: “We sold the [war] rugs in the bazaar to the people, commanders, for example, who were coming from foreign coutnries at that time.” she recalls. The centre where Michgan works keeps a similar focus on profits: they churn out a certain number of war rugs every year, buying them from the women who participate on a commissioned or semi-comissioned basis. Merza continues to weave alongside his wife but says he is trying to find more lucrative work.”

One of Michgan's rugs. Photograph by Martha Cooper.

Caption: “Rug. Michgan Hozain (Hazara), Afghanistan, 2004, Wool and cotton, 16 x 27 inches. Collection of City Lore. Photo by Martha Cooper. “9/11″ rugs appeared a few months after the World Trade Center was destroyed in 2001. Some Americans have speculated that Afghan weavers were rejoicing at the disaster but Hozain says she weaves them for sale because she finds a market for them.”

“Neither Hozain wants their son to learn to weave:”We want him to go to school and live a better life than us,” says Michgan. In fact, she informs us, “Whenever somebody comes to visit the carpets in our home or our centre we explain to them ‘Send your daughters to be educated [to do something] besides carpet-weaving.’ It is our message to them.”

We thank Ariel Zeitlin Cooke for her permission to reproduce this material.

Afghan refugee rugmakers in 1985 National Geographic magazine

September 26, 2006


At a local charity bookfair this weekend I found a copy of the June 1985 National Geographic magazine featuring the famous cover of the Afghan girl Sharbat Gula.

Debra Denker’s article, “Along Afghanistan’s War-torn Frontier”, is available online, but without the photographs by Steve McCurry, taken in 1984.

We’ve reproduced the images and captions below:


Carpet merchants, Turkoman refugees from Afghanistan’s north parade their wares along the stalls of Peshawar’s Qisssa Khawani Bazaar, the famed “storytellers’ bazaar”. Lacking stalls of their own, the Turkomans keep moving to find their customers. Many of the Turkomans have returned to join their fellows in the mujahideen, becoming some of the more fierce warriors and battle-smart commanders. Others prefer to remain in Pakistan, pursuing their skills as carpetmakers, the trade of their ancestors.”


“At Swabi refugee camp near Mardan wool is dyed and dried. Thereafter a carpet begins to take shape on a loom.”


“Carpetmaking is a family affair, with everybody participating around the horizontal loom. It can take three months to make a wool rug, a little longer for one of silk. The majority of the carpets are for prayer, but some larger ones are made for use in homes. Thousands of Turkoman refugees equal thousands of carpets – in addition to those locally produced. The Pakistani weavers feel they are being hurt by Turkomans, who pay no taxes and no shop rents, selling their wares in the markets.”

Given women’s traditional involvement in weaving, it’s interesting that the “everybody” around the loom includes only men. This may be a function of the difficulty of photographing Afghan women that McCurry describes in “Arms Against Fury: Magnum Photographers in Afghanistan” at page 131:

“You could never meet your best friend’s wife, or even his sister. He could be your best friend, and you would never meet his wife. There was always a separate room in the house for guests, ad I was never in contact on any level with the women. If you saw a woman in the village, she would be working or caring for the children. You were allowed a single glance … There was no chance to take photographs. You could photograph a young girl running around playing with her friends in the village, but there was never any contact at all with adolescent and adult women. Just none.”

Arms Against Fury is available online, but there is no direct link – from here, click on “books”.

Steve McCurry also has a web page which includes an Afghanistan gallery.