Archive for the ‘Sources of imagery in War Rugs’ Category

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.

Update on attribution of ‘Anti-Soviet Socialist Realist” rug

September 9, 2006

Archives from the Ella Naef collection in Los Angeles reveal that in 1999 Palmer E. Rabey was able to acquire a version of this rug from a refugee camp near Peshawar, and the attribution is that it was made by Turkmen people. However the date and the question of the authorship of the design (and caption) remain unresolved. See the previous post on this topic.

An update …

September 5, 2006

We’ve uncovered some more images – and perhaps the original model – for the “Mother Afghanistan” rug exhibited by former US Army Ordnance Officer Tatiana Divens in 1993.

More details are in the original post, “Anti-Soviet Socialist Realism”.

Turkmen rug dealers among treasures

August 22, 2006

Photograph by Chris Walter, 1989

This photograph, taken in 1989 by Chris Walter, is published in Oriental Rugs Today by Emmett Eiland, 2003, Berkeley Hills Books, Berkeley (p. 68). The caption reads: “Turkmen rug dealers and friends in Islamabad, Pakistan, 1989.”

But look closely at the details:

Detail - small pistol rugs
Especially the detail of the small rugs on the floor which depict a pistol and some unidentifiable text. But look on the wall in the background, and scroll down to compare with our previous post!

Detail - background rugs

The detail of the hanging rug (behind, that is, the bag hanging in front, and the rolled rug in the foreground) seems to reveal the eccentric map-like mehrab and the particular gul we find in the Leyli and Majnun rugs in the previous post! And is that a bridge in the landscape behind? Are we seeing things?

Could this be the mystery bridge?

August 10, 2006

The following photograph is by Mikhail Evstafiev, a Moscow State University Masters of Journalism graduate who served as a volunteer soldier in Afghanistan for two years in the late 1980s. He became a photographer, editor and painter after the war, and has worked for the Reuters News Agency since 1996 as a photographer and editor.

Termez Bridge, Uzbekistan

The image is from the book Afghanistan: Lifting the Veil by the Staff of the Reuters, and is captioned:

Soviet troops cross over a bridge from Afghanistan into the town of Termez, USSR, during the last day of the withdrawal of soviet forces from Afghanistan, February 15, 1989. The armoured personnel carrier flies the forces’ colours. The withdrawiang soldiers were given a warm welcome by family members and military and local officials.


Is this a Sydney Harbour Bridge “war rug”?

July 8, 2006


Previous posts have speculated about the subject matter of these mystery bridge war rugs. This example is the closest we’ve yet seen to fitting the actual appearance of the “coathanger”, as it’s known locally. It is large, of floppy construction, and appears to use contemporary synthetic dyes – see for example the cerulean blue sky. Like the others, there are elements of flat weave, and generous borders, suggesting a common origin. If we follow the conventional wisdom that images are more abstracted through the process of copying, perhaps this is the earliest of the three? Can any readers shed light on the origin of this image? See details below, and photographs, to see why we find this attribution so persuasive…


on cruise missiles and ufos

April 7, 2006


Max Allen has discovered this image of the George Washington Bridge in NYC. Compare with the image below, which we have always had trouble interpreting… It seems this is another one of those instances where images morph through repetition, through different generations of copyists, and in this instance acquiring new content. These looked like Tomahawk cruise missiles to me, but can we be certain of anything?


Here we find an example of the nature of progressive abstraction, where motifs tend towards geometric simplification, losing detail generation by generation… However in this case, the origins of the cruise missiles (above the Hudson River) are somewhat clouded.



Cross-cultural reference

February 2, 2006

Max Allen does not rest. Here he takes us to another tradition via a post on Tribal Textiles Info. This is a Kalambi made by the Iban of Borneo, and the details of its discovery are recorded at the original site. Close observation shows men in military uniform, and are those green and yellow aeroplanes at left and right of the central form – a plane with propellor, figures on the wings, and flags?

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?)

More on the Realist War Rug…

September 18, 2005

Josephine Jasperse has send more images of details of this fine silk rug from her collection, including this photograph of the reverse side.

She interprets it as showing the destruction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul, in 1989.

Kevin Sudeith has done some more research and suggests the architectural structure on the right side of Josephine’s rug is the Royal Palace in Kabul, as seen here.

Kevin refers us to this quote from Gordon Sharpless’ account in Tales of Asia:

We continued to Darulaman. This area was designed in 1923 by King Amanullah with the intention to have it the seat of the nation’s government. Included is (was) a large palace that must have been something to behold prior to the war. It is now almost completely destroyed. It is possible to walk around inside, but do so carefully. It’s pure rubble. Across the street from the palace is the still-closed Kabul Museum… heavily destroyed, apparently there is little left to put on display anyway.

Kevin adds that the arch on the left side of the field is the Pargham Lake Arch.

Here are some more details of the vignettes in the border areas:

Kevin further suggests the flag held by the horseman on the bottom left is a Taliban flag – see this image from Wikipedia – but I’m not so sure the image is clear enough to draw this conclusion.

Is there enough evidence to attribute a political position to this image? In a recent email, Kevin continues:

The Soviet tanks and the Royal Palace burning together suggests a pro-taliban political message… [however the use of] figuration is very anti-taliban-esque, so perhaps [this is] a Pakistani or Persian production?

We will need to see more examples of this genre to draw further conclusions.

From our outsider vantage point, this rug further complicates our questions about the design process – of both this rug, and by implication, the more traditional forms of the “war rug”. The Realist rug suggests the cartoon owes a lot to photographic sources, but that remains to be seen.

In general, we ask: who is the author? What is the design process? How are the original cartoons drawn up? Are rugs copied from one to the other? If rugs are copied pixel-by-pixel from the backs of other rugs, this would explain how frequently texts and even the map of Aghanistan appears in mirror-image on the front of the rug – which is not a problem for traditional imagery which uses bilateral symmetry in one or both axes.

The other significant question raised by the Realist Rug is the question of style. if it weren’t so overtly anti-Soviet, you would assume the artist/designer was trained in Moscow (or elsewhere in the former Soviet Union) in the style of Soviet Socialist Realism. All of the pictorial devices suggest someone trained within the Western/Soviet tradition – or at least someone visually adept and aware of the inheritance of the nineteenth century schools of Romanticism and Realism. Add to this the structures and devices of collage and montage, and only the material qualities of the rug identify it with the cultural context of Afghanistan and its neighbours. I’m thinking out loud here – but that’s the nature of the blog – and this rug raises exciting questions which take us outside of the ethnographic character of orthodox discussions of rug styles and attribution.

More details of the central parts of this rug may be found at this earlier post.

Comments please…