Yesterday I bought a war rug.
In my weaving class, one of the women is a volunteer at the Textile Museum of Canada. She told me that their director, Max Allen, was selling off a bunch of Afghan war rugs that he had collected in a special sale to benefit the museum. You had to buy a membership in the museum and then could pay $50 for your choice of small rugs available, about 80 of them. You could also bid on one or more of the larger rugs that would be on display.
The sale was yesterday. I went downtown to the sale location to arrive right at opening time, but there were already fifty people ahead of me, and Max had decided that each person could buy up to two rugs apiece. I guess he was worried not enough people would come to buy the rugs.
Of course, they sold out within ten minutes of opening the doors. When I got in, there were three rugs left, and two of them appeared to be claimed by a young couple standing by them. I picked up the third rug.
I've kind of been thinking about getting a membership in the Textile Museum, so this was an incentive to do it. And looking up my rug on warrug.com, I figure it is probably worth around $200. Some of the larger rugs that were snapped up in the first few seconds of the sale were in the thousand dollar range.
As you can see from the picture, this is not the most beautiful rug, filled as it is with images of war (mostly vehicles, some rugs are more blatant with images of weapons). It is small, about 2.5 x 1.5 ft. This would be a prayer rug. Can you imagine praying on a rug like this? What would you be praying for? Or about?
I wrote last year about the war rug exhibit at the Textile Museum, and there is a lot of information at warrug.com about this subject. There are also videos of Max Allen speaking on the subject (a short video here, and a longer one here). He was at the sale, wandering around explaining the details of the rugs, about how they were made, how you could tell where they came from, what the imagery signified, that sort of thing.
I think the beauty of this rug for me is in its construction and its backstory. I do not know the details of the weaver's life and circumstance but I do know some generalities. She is most likely a woman. She incorporates images from her life, and with Afghanistan being a battlefield for more than thirty years now, war defines her life. In all likelihood she lives or has lived in a refugee camp. She may have learned her craft there, she most certainly was influenced by the refugee camps.
Before the war, Afghan women rarely left their home towns, and this was reflected in the design of their rugs, you could tell where a rug came from by the details of its design and imagery. No more, for weavers forced into refugee camps learned the styles of weavers all over their country, they melded their imagery and techniques. Today it is very difficult to tell where an Afghan rug was made, there is very little specific imagery based on locale.
They say you should write about what you know, weavers weave what they know.
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