Over at Iconophilia you’ll find some work-in-progress on one of the most atypical war rugs we’ve seen. Of course there are so many different modes of the war rug, none of them are typical.
Archive for the ‘Nigel Lendon’ Category
Here’s a summary of a paper I presented to the Annual Conference of the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand, at Sydney University, last Friday 13th July, 2012.
Addressing the inherent tension in the three elements of my title: what is the Afghan Modern? who are its anonymous authors? and how does a concept of collective agency assist our interpretation of what these artists make? I suggested that the unfamiliar or even contradictory relation between concepts of The Modern with that of both anonymity and collectivity can be resolved by the introduction of a concept of collective agency – an idea which was implicit but not developed in Alfred Gell’s definitive Art and Agency of 1998.
In this paper I proposed that the concept of collective agency supercedes the problem of the anonymous author for our understanding of these works as a form of indigenous modernism. All these works propose collective social values and behavior as the source of intentionality, creativity, and virtuosity – that is, the capacities that enable the artefact to enchant (in Gell’s theory) through its abducted agency.
I also proposed that the consideration of collective agency demonstrates that there is, in this instance, a capacity to reconcile the tensions between modernity and tradition – which has produced a form of indigenous modernism developed independent of the colonizing effects and assumptions of the West (contra John Clark’s account) and in contrast to the continuity and reinvention of local neotraditionalism.
And so I sought to demonstrate how a concept of collective agency is also a means by which one can reconcile the apparent contradictions between an unfamiliar form of modernist art and the anonymity of its makers, and through a new understanding of the intrinsic interplay between individualism and collectivity as the means by which this genre has been produced.
In this paper I focused on a particular set of images, the modernism of which is reflected in the capacity of the designers to integrate new forms into the medium of the carpet, in order to convey narrative and other meanings derived from contemporary graphic sources. In these images the key emblem – the map of Afghanistan – is transformed in ways which reveals the capacity of an artist to explore form-for-form’s sake – by creating complex and apparently contradictory imagery which is completely new and distinctive to the genre.
In my argument about the modernity of artefacts such as these, I’m concerned not so much with the direct translation of graphic conventions into the medium of the knotted carpet but rather I’m looking at the more complex transformation of this emblematic and cartographic icon – here presented as the primary icon of national identity, and unity, in response to the experience of the occupation by the Soviet Union.
In the paper I discuss examples of this re-orientation of the form of the map of Afghanistan (rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise) such that it loses its cartographic accuracy or relevance at the same time as it gains added symbolic significance and spatial complexity through its novel and ambiguous pictographic character.
This re-orientation (some say disorientation) of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan produces a kind of vertical landscape – with the illusion of foreground and background, an horizon line, creating spaces for buildings, helicopters, and aeroplanes, plus other illusionistic elements, and other pictorial modes…
The evolution of these maps towards a landscape form – what in Chinese art would be called a floating perspective – is here also affective by its evocation of national identity, suggesting character, resistance, and isolation – all as positive virtues – despite all of the ethnic complexities, rivalry, and conflict, (implicit in the complexity of the map form itself), manifest in the civil conflict that burst on the scene in the years immediately after these rugs were made.
P.S. Such carpets as these can be attributed to the Aimak-speaking Hazara and Tajik people from the Ghor province, in the mid-western desert mountains of Afghanistan.
P.P.S. See another related example here.
Ever wonder about the origins of the imagery on a carpet such as this?your wallet…
The Victory Arch [Taaq-e-Zafar] in the Paghman Gardens outside celebrates the Afghan victory over in 1919. And the source of the photograph used to produce the ? Look in your mailbox…
The civil war of the early nineties left nothing unscathed.
[photo by Dr. Khalid Salimi]
Wouldn’t you love to know who made this? But as Max Allen has often commented, there’s more that we don’t know than what we do know about the war rug genre. There are many different categories of cartographic images made during the era of the war carpet, and accurate representations of the map of Afghanistan are first seen in war carpets from the mid-1980s. And there were many other forms of representation of the map of Afghanistan in circulation in Afghanistan in the pre-war era. Maps like this one – with schematic rather than cartographic forms – appear to derive from the western provinces of Afghanistan, and some are dated 1989, 1990, and 1991. I have seen nine examples like this (plus others at a larger scale) and what is striking about them is that they are all clearly by different makers – despite the fact that the basic format (naming the different provinces of Afghanistan, inserting familiar symbols, war references, and orienting the East upwards) is the same in each example. And so while this group are anonymous (in the Western sense) they have a communal character that is very compelling. Afghan carpets are commissioned, designed, made and distributed under a distinctive schema of collective agency, and so to recognise this as a “work of art” we will need to rethink our Western convention of a work of art having a unique author… Maybe the nine constitute the one work? In the sense of communal authorship? Watch this space!
Here it is (minus images). I’ve been asked to load a .pdf of my essay Beauty_and_Horror: Identity and Conflict in the War Carpets of Afghanistan (2008).
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.
I read somewhere that artists in The West were not producing images about war or the arms race. I thought “that can’t be right?” Then I remembered this Sydney University Art Workshop poster, designed by Nigel Lendon and printed by Pam Debenham. Never been translated into a war rug!
This is Weston and Ella Naef at Pacific Palisades in LA at the start of a two day marathon inspecting and re-cataloguing Ella’s extensive collection of war rugs. Exciting work. The collection includes some magnificent larger rugs, plus some key early rugs collected by the English artist Graham Bacon in the mid-80s, which will help solve some of the mysteries of determining the dates for rugs from the 1980s. The earliest is a rug with the date 1984 embedded in it, acquired by Bacon in 1987. I’ll post it when the image becomes available.
Below is an image of Dr John L. Sommer in the kitchen at the residence of Pat Markovich in Piedmont, San Franciso, amongst a myriad of war rugs which adorn every available surface, and more.
Ms Markovich has some really distinctive rugs, the like of which we haven’t seen before. The rug on the wall behind Dr Sommer is a flatweave structure, and is reproduced in full in Emmett Eiland’s book Oriental Rugs Today: A Guide to the Best New Carpets from the East (2003, Berkeley Hills Books, Berkely; 2nd edition, p 158):
Photograph by David Holbrook Young.
It is captioned:
“This unusual war rug is flat-woven. In it, traditional rug design (the vase and flowers in the centre) is mixed with modern machines of warfare (helicopters and automatic rifles) and archaic fighters (sworkdsmen on horses. While many variations of the other three war rugs are to be found, this piece seems unique. Could it be a truly personal statement?”
Dr Sommer’s reputation as a patient, enthusiastic, and generous host is much appreciated. But meeting Pat Markovich (who wasn’t at home) will have to wait for the next visit.
Coincidentally, a colleague just showed me a review in the Jan/Feb 2006 FiberArts an exhibition and book/catalogue “Wearing Propaganda“, Yale University Press, 2005, curated/edited by Jacqueline M. Atkins. The full title of the exhibition was “Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain and the United States 1931-1945” at New York City’s Bard Graduate Centre for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, Nov 18-Feb 5th. So if you’re in New York you just have time to catch it.