Archive for the ‘Translation of texts in War Rugs’ Category

The Cosmorama Carpet

September 6, 2011

Atlas carpets (variously called World Political Map, or World Map, or Map of the World, or Mappa Mundi) are a recurrent theme on this site.

While there are deep precedents for such designs, (for example, the Early 19th century antique Bakhtiari carpet illustrated at the bottom of this post), during the past forty years we have seen numerous new innovative forms emerge within the Afghan and Iranian carpet-making traditions, including those with maps as the primary motif.

This example, the Cosmorama carpet, made by the Master H. Ghodrati, of Maragheh in northwestern Iran, was seen in the handicrafts section of The Anthropology Museum, in the Niavaran Palace Complex – the ex-Shah’s summer palace, at Sadabad, on the northern edge of Tehran, in 2007. As you see, it is simply dated “contemporary”. However, if we interpret the time-line revealed by the changing names of countries depicted, we see that The Soviet Union is still intact, as is Zaire. Therefore we can deduce that the printed atlas from which this carpet was copied was published some time between 1971 (the origin of Zaire) to 1992 (the formation of The Russian Federation). Of course that only tells us the terminus post quem, the earliest date after which it could have been made.

What this does demonstrate, however, is that the motif of the Map of the World is relatively widespread within the carpet-making traditions of Iran and Afghanistan during the period of innovative designs from the 1970s – which of course includes war carpets from the early 1980s. And if the atlas describes itself (as is common in the title text-block) as The World Political Map, it doesn’t mean that there is some political motive at play…

And whether or not this Bakhtiari is “early 19th century”, it demonstrates that the tradition goes back a long way…

This carpet (Early 19th century antique Bakhtiari) is illustrated in Eric Aschenbrenner, Iranian Town and Village Carpets and Rugs, 1981-2005, Yassavoli Publications, Tehran, p115.

“Victory” rug with a twist

January 14, 2008


Here’s a rug from Kevin Sudeith’s collection (see which is a ‘victory’ rug with a twist. I confess I didn’t look at it very closely the first time around. It follows the (very) familiar format of the ‘Victory over the Soviets’ carpets which first appeared in the early 90s and which depicts the Soviet forces heading home along the highway that leads from the Salang Pass, across the “Friendship Bridge”, through Termez, and home…

But what is the 2002 date doing there? As Kevin notes, when you translate the text in Farsi you will find that what normally reads: “The Soviet forces are exiting Afghanistan” reads “The al-Qaeda forces are exiting Afghanistan”. This shows how quickly antecedent designs and motifs of tourist art can be recycled to catch a potential market, that is, the new population of ISAF and NATO forces which began to arrive in Afghanistan from 2002 onwards.

Kevin has many variants of this style on his site, which are worth careful examination to see these kinds of variations. For example, some include the dates of both the Saur revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, plus texts which (optimistically) read “international terrorists got wiped off [overthrown] from entire Afghanistan”.

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.


A second generation war rug

May 15, 2007


Each new discovery creates its own puzzles. This rug is characteristic of the early phase of refugee camp rugs in Pakistan marking the second generation of war rugs – dating from the late 1980s and continuing during the civil wars of the 1990s. This rug, sent by Rob Silcocks, a new reader of the blog, was found in an antique shop in Austin, where it has been sitting “for the last 15 years”. And from what you can tell from the photos, there’s some Turkmen influence in the framing pattern, and the modest kilim skirts. Which is consistent with other expatriate rugs produced in Pakistan in this era.

The texts, although somewhat scrambled, and maybe phoneticised, are revealing: “Made in Afghani refoji (refugee)” (twice) and “nojadim (?) Islami Afghanistan”, then in Farsi “Zendeh Baad, Afghanistan-e-Eslaami” (“Long Live Islamic Afghanistan”).

But then there is the question of the date: 1357 by the solar calendar is 1978 -79 AD, which is clearly not the date the rug was made, but refers to the time of the Saur revolution and the Soviet invasion. It seems to me that most rugs have dates inscribed in them are NOT the date in which they were made – a convention we might desire, but which is rarely substantiated. Some of these may be simply a case of mistaken inscription – instances of war rugs with pre-war dates will excite some theorists more than it should…

In our experience there are three kinds of dates:

1. Dates that make reference to an historical incident – sometimes substantiated by other texts, the date in European numerals, or other visual clues. However dates such as 1979, 1980, or 1989 make sense in relation to the USSR occupation, or withdrawal.
2. Dates that are mis-transcriptions (given that most weavers are non-literate, this seems fairly common)

3. The date of production. This is rare, but more common in second-generation carpets, where other texts in the same rug clearly address an “outside” audience. It’s sometimes possible to substantiate a date of production by comparison with the character of the carpet, and where it sits in the war carpet chronology, or where there’s a makers name – we have seen name, address and phone number in some carpets, and even the price!

More from the Jasperse Collection

October 17, 2005

Every time Josephine contributes a work from her collection we have to revise the boundaries of our categories. (A similar thing occurs at the moment at the front page of Kevin’s site).

Here Josephine sends a remarkable mixed-category image.

It is part landscape (in the upper register), part-map with text (in English and Farsi), part-cityscape (within the map), plus a beautiful idyllic scene with peacocks beside a stream (complete with fish) in the lower register. It also has a mosque-pattern border. In another sense it can be read as a landscape foreground with a cityscape and distant horizon in the background, with the map and its vignetted image montaged over the middle ground. The shame with many of these is that we will never know the designer/maker’s intentions…

Its near-monochrome blue-grey-brown colour appears to be similar to the mosque image we showed a few weeks ago. We will ask Josephine to tell us more about the colour and quality of the rug and post her reply…

See details below…


September 9, 2005

Nasser Palangi, (an Iranian artist living in Canberra), has also given me a translation of the text on the image of the Leyli and Majnun rug. The updated posts are here; click on post titles to see the images.

Writing the Constitution

May 19, 2005


Here’s an image of a new work full of interest – both in terms of its political content, its extensive texts, and the innovative use of the map as another kind of framing device for the narrative.


The texts (in Pashtu and Dari) have been translated to read: “Afghan Islamic Interim Government – people in the making of their constitution” and “The management of the handicraft province of Herat – the village of Faris Qairia” and the ‘solar calendar’ date 1483 (2004).


On the table is a kind of agenda, signalling the priorities for a national agenda: “national unity and peace, justice, law and the constitution, food and development” etc.


There are some text elements in the border, but maybe untranslatable?

And now Kevin Sudeith uncovers the source – this poster! The source was an American soldier in Paktika province in Afghanistan from last fall. And are any of the figures identifiable? See Kevin’s comment below…

Jihad against the Soviets

January 21, 2005

Here are the details of the text on the image below – the translation (in italics) is by Hossein Valamanesh.

(return to the full image here)


This is a combination of a number of words but the main word in the middle could be Jihad but with an extra line in the middle I do not know what that is – could be decorative.

Sabur Fahiz contributes a further translation: either side of the flaming hand are to be read the names of the Socialist factions: “Parcham”, and “Khalkh”. But as well, he suggests that the flaming hand of the Soviets is also a reference to another faction: “Shollah” or “the flame” which was also the name of another faction, rendered extinct in the internecine warfare within the Socialist bloc.

– An earlier example of this carpet can be seen at Plate 35 in Frembgen and Mohm.


On the right the word is people – on the left, flag.

– What’s striking about this image is the device of layering or transparency – the shower of (what is it? another hammer and sickle?), the geometrical symbol, and the text overlaid in a kind of matrix above the Jihad tag. The image of the hand descending from the space of the Soviet Union, with hammer and sickle above, is usually holding/manipulating the figure of Najibullah, but there are other examples of the hand raining down over the map of Afghanistan.


This is a difficult one – on the left the first word says price of or price, and continuing that it is not clear. It could be the word mistake or hard work.


On the left, land or land of. On the right, Afghanistan.


I think it may be imitating a Russian or English word.

In the full image of the carpet, surrounding Afghanistan clockwise from the top are the names of surrounding countries – Turkomanstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and on the left Iran.

Headline texts?

October 25, 2004


For this kind of map (halfway between geography and geometry) I’m curious to know what the texts surrounding the image are saying. Help, anyone?






July 26, 2004


This is a rug from Graham Gower’s collection, which he describes thus:

A ‘battle’ rug. The rather confusing imagery shown in this rug represents a view of battle. To be seen in this complex weaving are jet planes dropping their bombs, destruction to property, explosions and gun positions in the hills, plus a road and river and some writing. Versions of this particular war scene are known on other rugs. Size 4ft 11 inches x 2ft 9 inches.


I have seen in a number of variations on this intriguing image, of which this is the most colourful and elaborate in its decorative details. There are a number of aspects of interest to me with this image: what is the view represented? Given that the general layout, and individual elements, are repeated in each example (the row of buildings, the tree, the tower), one assumes they are necessary to the scene or event represented, and recognisable to a knowledgeable viewer… The texts may give a clue. And generally, once we can assemble a number of variations of the same image, it’s of interest to me to learn how an image “evolves” through its various copies of copies, etc., and with what creative flexibility each generation of weavers approaches their task…

Here’s another version for comparison (size 930 x 1630, loose floppy weave, date unknown).





And Plate 25 “Krieg auch in Kandahar” in Frembgen and Mohm (see bibliography) is perhaps a simplified version of the same image – at least the tower, mountains etc. are in a similar relationship to each other. And the text is in English.

And here for comparison are two further images and details posted by Kevin Sudeith and Rebecca Miller at




Here’s another (rug #460), with Kevin’s commentary:

Small Village Afghan War Rug: This war rug was woven in 1997 in Herat, Afghanistan. It stems from an interesting tradition of Herati pictorial war rugs. An example of this can be seen on our collectors page, war rug I.D. number 7. This is made in the same style and tradition and incorporates similar images. Rug number 7 is loaned to museums and galleries throughout the world. The border of this rug has beautiful color. This border pattern is indicative of a particular group of rugs made outside Herat. Note the similarity to the main border of rug #7, as well as this rug #227, and #263.

The main structure is this war rug found on the left is a mosque. In the mountains, on the right, is an anti-aircraft piece. Just to the left of that are two red and blue geometrical images. This represents the Mujahideen hiding out in so-called pill boxes, where they dig out an area to safely protect themselves from detection as they fight. There is text written in Farsi throughout this war rug. This is a beautiful rug with outstanding colors and forms. Sure to be treasured and an interesting conversation starter, to boot.