Thursday, January 29, 2009

Textile Museum, part II: War Rugs of Afghanistan

The plaque on the wall at the start of this exhibit says it all.

There have never been rugs like this before.

This exhibit at the Canadian Textile Museum was amazing, shocking, beautiful, haunting.

A traditional Persian or Afghan rug is based on the concept of a walled garden, beautiful flowers, birds and trees represented in the centre or main body of the rug, and a protective wall or border surrounding it all.

Look closely and you will see in this rug that weapons and military vehicles have replaced the flowers, trees and animals. Click the image to see a more detailed view of it.

All of these carpets were filled with images of war, either blatantly or subtly.

Four million Afghans have fled to refugee camps, one of the largest refugee populations ever. People who had lived their entire lives in small villages, never travelling very far, now trekked across their country to find safe haven, passing through cities for the first time ever. They have ended in massive refugee camps, people from all parts of this country jumbled together. Once you could tell where a rug came from by its unique design and patterns, now the rug weavers from all over share images and weaving heritages in the camps, it is impossible to tell anymore where a rug comes from, or whether its content is a comment for or against war.

A kalashnikov is an Aghan man's most prized possession.

A very sad rug, a lady lute player surrounded by tanks and grenades.

Afghans have been exposed to the world, whether by foreign soldiers, news broadcasts on TV, or their own relatives fled to other countries and sending postcards home. Several of the displayed rugs showed foreign cities: Melbourne, Paris, London, New York. Each one incorporating weapons and machinery of war (a carpet depicting London showed the sky filled with bombers).

This rug shows the Twin Towers of New York City.

Afghans struggle to understand what is going on in their country through the stories and symbols of mythology. This rug depicts the story of Rustam and the dragon, how Rustam's trusty horse Rakhsh saved his master and aided in the destruction of the dragon.

This rug is a symbolic representation of the battle between good and evil, being fought in the land of Afghanistan.

The military insignia worn as patches by foreign soldiers are a rich source of images and symbols for Afghan weavers.

This rug bears a terrible message. In the centre you see a butterfly. At the bottom you see the butterfly landmine (small pink shape). This was widely used by Soviet soldiers, and Afghan children would pick them up because they looked like interesting toys, with devastating results.

Afghanistan is still heavily mined, most of the Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan action were killed by landmines. Some of the rugs depict Afghans with missing limbs, due to landmines.

The Ottawa Convention (Mine Ban Treaty) was signed by 122 nations in 1997, banning the use of anti-personnel landmines. Princess Diana worked hard for this treaty, and her death spurred many recalcitrant nations to ratify it. However, thirty nations have yet to sign, including Russia, India, China and the United States. Although this treaty was historical in gaining widespread ratification of a weapons ban, it is still almost useless because those four great nations refuse to sign.

The exhibit included a slide show of photos gleaned from various websites depicting the war in Afghanistan. A few minutes of watching the endless loop of grim photos conveyed what a little of what it was like to live there.

The photos in the slide show are mostly taken by foreign soldiers and show what they see there every day. There were a very few photos of battlefields, but most of the photos were of everyday life. It painted a pretty grim picture. Thirty years of war! Many people there have never known another way of life!

This exhibit of exquisite workmanship and artistry is indeed an eye-opener!


Anonymous said...

How terribly eloquent the rug designs and your narrative are. How sad that anyone lives with that turmoil inflicted by others.

What a side tragedy that the family and regional rug designs have been homogenized and the uniqueness lost. May there be peace, a return home, and someone to remember the heritage designs for a peaceful time. May that be soon.

I am ashamed the USA has not signed the anti-personnel mine pact.

Hugs to you, my friend.

Zabetha said...

I don't know if the patterns are homogenized and heritage lost, or if this is a fruitful sharing of techniques and ideas. Time will tell. Did you know that what we think of as traditional Navaho rug design is actually a derivative of Spanish design?