Archive for the ‘Literature & Catalogues’ Category

New York exhibition opening: “Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory”

September 17, 2006

Readers in the New York area will be interested to know that the exhibition “Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory” is showing at The Puffin Room, 435 Broome Street, New York, until mid October. The exhibition will tour throughout the US until 2008 – a list of locations can be found by scrolling down here and the excellent catalogue is available online.


Kevin Sudeith ( and Curator Ariel Zeitlin Cooke in the exhibition.

Ariel writes:

the exhibition features a dazzling display of war textiles–Afghan war rugs, Hmong story cloths, Chilean and Peruvian arpilleras and South African memory cloths, all of which bear witness to the artists’ experience of modern warfare. This is a wonderful moment for me, as I have worked on the project for more than 15 years.

The exhibition has been reviewed in the online version of Hali magazine.

There are some photographs from the exhibition opening with distinguished guest Hmong story cloth artist Pang Xiong Sirirasathuk Sikounat at Kevin Sudeith’s blog.

One of the most striking war rugs (among many of interest) was the prayer rug from the collection of Bruce Baganz. You can find other images of the exhibition pieces on Kevin’s blog…



The work of many hands …

September 4, 2006

We’ll soon be seeing some travelling posts from Nigel, who’s just started his first overseas trip under the Australian Research Council grant that funds the Rugs of War project.

In the meantime, here are some fascinating images we’ve found through the work of visual artist Christoph Büchel. With Giovanni Carmine, Büchel exhibited an installation titled “PSYOP – Capture their minds and their hearts and souls will follow” at the Sharjah Biennial 7 held in the United Arab Emirates from April – June 2005.

A related artists’ book called PSYOP Post-9/11 Leaflets, edited by Buchel and Carmine was published in 2005 by Win With Words in an edition of 2000, and is still available. It includes a fascinating propaganda leaflet used by the Coalition forces during “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan in 2002. The leaflets were dropped by air. This one is printed in both the Dari and Pashtu languages, and reads as follows:


Front: “Many threads make one rug”


Back: “Together you can make one Afghanistan!”

The same back image was also used with at least two other front images which conveyed a similar intention. Firstly this one, which reads “Brick by brick …”

Brick by brick

And secondly this one. The original text is in Dari and Pashtu, and the reverse again reads “Together you can make one Afghanistan.”

The Taliban is trying to divide you

Büchel has also used war rugs themselves in his installations, in this work from 2005:

Lada and rugs

Fliegender Händler (trans from German: “Flying trader”)
Car (Lada), rugs, speakers, different materials

And most recently at the Reg Vardy Gallery, part of the University of Sunderland in the UK. The following description is from the Gallery’s website:

Opening on May 23 at Reg Vardy Gallery will be a faithful recreation of the Sunderland hotel room Mr. Büchel stayed in during his preparations for the exhibition. Displayed in this room as if by a traveling salesman are imported hand-woven rugs from Afghanistan commemorating the events of September 11, 2001. The woven imagery appropriated into these rugs is derived from leaflets dropped on Afghanistan as part of the coalition forces’ psychological operations of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Mr Büchel is represented by Hauser & Wirth, whose London gallery will show a major exhibition of his work later this year. We thank him for his kind permission to reproduce these images here.

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.

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…)

Kevin Sudeith’s new publication

October 18, 2005

Kevin is going to print with Pictorial War Rugs: Volume 1 (due October 15) and invites orders on his site. Await a review when I get my hands on a copy!

The Swallows of Kabul

October 7, 2005

This novel (2002, London, by Yasmina Khadra, aka Mohammed Moulessehoul) was given to me a few weeks ago as a birthday present, and I began to read it as I was becoming ill with the flu. Days later, coming out of the effects of this particularly nasty bug, I realised I had been re-thinking the book and my reactions to it in a particularly appropriate frame of body and mind. I don’t mean to trivialise my responses, only to observe that sometimes one sees things differently when outside one’s normal time and space.

So I didn’t react well to the first hallucinogenic, nightmarish pages, which end “…our story is born, like the water lily that blooms in a stagnant swamp.” I hate the royal plural. For some reason, my frustration grew as “we” – or rather , I, the reader – am introduced to the two key male figures of the novel, plus one of the major supporting cast, and the description of a ritual stoning of a “prostitute”, in which Mohsen Ramat, the would-be diplomat, involuntarily finds himself participating…

I found myself frustrated by the way the author has presented his figures with equal intensity and attention, their stories contiguous in time and place, yet interwoven without apparent purpose. Patience, I told myself. So I skipped ahead several chapters, to make sense of what is happening. I found myself at a scene where a mullah delivers a particularly evil diatribe, through which Mohsen’s wife is forced to endure the heat of the midday sun, motionless in her burqa, and… Things are happening, I persuaded myself, so I returned to where I was in the story.

Curiously, I later realised I had jumped to the point in the story where all the manic, paranoid sociopathy of the novel begins to coalesce. The author’s skill, I discover, is to develop his speaking subjects’ identities through experiences with which the reader may recognise a normality which then fragments and dissolves and shocks by the nature of one’s reactions to events which seem inconsistently extreme in relation to their apparent import to the story. In another sense, his narrative style intensifies the reader’s experience by creating a claustrophobic effect, as if the narrative “camera” is always too close to the subject, and thus the too-subjective vantage point the author assumes in relation to the subject creates in the reader a state of constant recoil.

The author’s strategy – and thus his voice, notwithstanding this being obscured by his female nom-de-plume – slowly becomes clearer. Understanding that most readers will never have experienced anything like the dark days of the rule of the Taliban, he confronts his viewers with realities which are both alien in their extremity, but recognisable, and therefore made accessible, in their subjective normality. As Salman Rushdie said yesterday on the radio, it’s hard to write about real atrocity. So, in The Swallows of Kabul, beauty is the target, and the reader is left gasping as it is brutally expunged, and his representations of life – or survival – are depicted at its lowest ebb. And the first casuality in the war on beauty is laughter, which the author takes as the symbolic turning point to the descent into infinite sociopathy.

It is too simplistic to say this is a story written by an man through a woman’s identity about weak men and strong women. It is a story about individuals, two married men and women, who are crushed and brutalised at every turn, for whom violent dysfunctionality at every level turns to sacrifice and suicide. It is not a gendered story, even though the women are always subjected to the most brutally subservient and politically and socially disenfranchised roles, and good and evil are shown to be immanent in the characters as individuals rather than types.

It is a book about horrific times, and the author enables the reader to imagine one’s way into the lives and deaths of people like those enduring (or not) these days of war and conflict. It is a powerful and elegant book about horror. Read it.