Archive for the ‘Nigel Lendon’ Category

… and another

December 13, 2005

Max has been busy. Here’s another very similar rug – however this time the mosques are less like mosques and more like multi-story buildings, and the alien texts raining from the sky (Matrix-like) have assumed the more concrete form of helicopters. This example, together with the two below, make a fabulous threesome, adding to the poetic ambiguity we see when we probe their origins in more detail. Stand by for further Max Allen comparison and analysis…

a variant

December 13, 2005

Max Allen of Toronto sends this close relative of the previous rug. See his comments to that post…

Early Taimani mosquescape with aircraft

December 1, 2005

This is an image sourced from Ron O’Callaghan, who writes:

This is an Afghan war rug made in Afghanistan by Chahar Aimaq Taimanis from Northwestern Afghanistan just east of Herat. This rug came to us from Afghanistan and it is as if it has been sequestered in a time capsule. We believe it came from earlier in the Soviet phase of the war and is characteristic of a rare group of pictorial rugs from the Herat area in Western Afghanistan that are read horizontally rather than vertically. The field is a light oatmeal, natural wool, undyed. Pictured here are three mosques, shown as the main domed mosque buildings with their towering minarets from which the muezzins proclaimed the daily prayers. Ascending between the mosques are trees-of-life, fruit trees probably pomegranates. Also appearing between the mosques are six Soviet fighter/bombers, probably MIG-25s. Both on the field and on the border are representations of Russian Cyrillic letters. There are very nice kilim ends on this piece.

Compare the symbols of fighter aircraft with the beautifully simplified images in the flatweave works in the Gower collection – is this a link to the origins of the latter? I admit it’s arguable that many aircraft and bomb symbols are reduced in this way – but in this case the comparison is very close…

I particularly like the ominous “clouds” of Russian Cyrillic text in the sky above the mountains… stormy weather ahead…

(PS Graham – I’m having trouble with your email address… could you confirm?)

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.

Who are the Baluch experts?

November 1, 2004

Thinking about the issues I’ve raised in recent posts – and marvelling in the networking opportunities the blog provides – this is a search for those who are the world experts in pre-war Baluch rugs…

Could all my readers please refer the blog address to friends and acquaintances who have the deep knowledge of the mid-century Baluch tradition, or email me directly (for privacy’s sake) with your opinions of who are the experts?

Understanding the precedents for the tradition will help begin the process of identifying the specifics of the process of change in the Afghan war rugs of the first, second, and now third decade.

I look forward to hearing of any leads…

The re-emergence of decoration

October 6, 2004


These three “war rugs” from the Bell Private Collection display a recent tendency to reinvent the elaborate decorative structures of the Baluch rug tradition, where the elements which signify the presence of war and armed conflict are being repressed, made almost invisible, yet remain as potent reminders of the circumstances of their makers.


These three rugs seem quite new, and are probably the products of Afghan diasporic communities now based in Pakistan. Given the past 10 years of trauma which has resulted in the semi-permanent displacement of many makers previously identified as Baluch nomads, is it time to come up with a new term for such rugs?


It now seems appropriate to identify a whole new genre of rugs with hybridised origins, where no secure and consistent links to “tradition” (in the sense of identifying a rug as “Baluch” or “Chechen” based on its primary motifs etc.) may be argued, and where in a postmodern sense, forms and subject matter are borrowed from a variety of sources.

Maybe a discussion should take place around this new category (as with these examples) “diasporic Afghan” rugs, rather than “Baluch” or other ethnic attributions?

New reference to Rugs of War

September 8, 2004

A new review of the Rugs of War exhibition has been published in Vital Signs, the journal of State Records NSW.

Where are all these images going?

June 19, 2004

…you might well ask. Thanks to the contributors who are sending their jpegs of war rugs in their collections, at the moment they are being archived in the Contributors’ Gallery.

Near and Far

June 16, 2004

My essay from The Rugs of War catalogue:

Brian Spooner’s essay “Weavers and dealers: the authenticity of an oriental carpet” of 1986 perceptively explores the relationship between cultural distance and the desire for authenticity, seen through the critiques of primitivism and orientalism. In the case of the rugs of the Turkmen, he explores the crucial nexus between the makers of ‘tribal’ carpets and the influence of markets and their network of dealers on the perceptions of both makers and audiences. Since then a highly innovative genre of rugs/carpets known as ‘war rugs’ has emerged, largely at the hands of the Baluchi peoples, neighbours of the Turkmen, who have endured two decades of conflict and dislocation. In disentangling the complexity of the knowledge of such traditions in the world outside Central Asia, Spooner argues that the West’s quest for authenticity is enhanced by cultural distance from the source of these artefacts. He suggest that such claims to ‘authenticity’ are informed not by ethnographic knowledge, but by the “lore of the dealer . . . generated by the history of the trade and of Western interest, rather than by the conditions of production.” He is equally persuasive when he concludes “whichever way we turn in an attempt to explain our interest in oriental carpets, we run sooner or later into mystification.”

Digital Kalashnikov

May 28, 2004

In response to my Life and Death post, people have been asking me how do I know the figure in the deer’s stomach is (still) a Kalashnikov? Putting to one side the fact that Mr Kalashnikov’s invention may have resulted in more deaths than any other twentieth century artefact, and that its presence in war rugs acts as a grim reminder of its multiple meanings for different audiences, it remains one of those symbols, figures, or ciphers by which rug makers allow their images to morph from set of meanings to another. You might ask: how few pixels does it take to represent death? – here are some examples.