The Strange Art of Afghanistan's War Rugs
An obscure but ancient branch of loom art, weaving current events into carpets
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
The Afghan War Rug is a modern reinterpretation of an age-old art. Where the regular oriental carpet has an abstract design, these rugs are figurative, including tanks, guns and other weapons, and usually show a map of Afghanistan. They also deal with a very specific subject matter – the troubled recent history of Afghanistan.
Examples include rugs celebrating the defeat of the Soviets, who withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, to this one. It is similar to the Soviet Exodus mats (note the column of tanks heading north). However, it is dated to the year 2002.
Some of the lettering is in Latin script, the top text is in Farsi, apparently reading “The army of al-Qaeda is leaving Afghanistan”. According to the website www.warrug.com, which specialises in selling modern carpetry of this type, this rug
“is a transitional piece between the Soviet story rugs and the War on Terrorism rugs (…) Until the US eliminated the Taliban regime, this style of rug was woven by refugees in Pakistan. After we drove al-Qaeda and the Taliban back to the age of the Cave Man, these weavers were able to return to their native homes and produce these rugs around Mazar I’Sharif and Sherberghan.”
By weaving recent history into mats, these Afghan artisans are revitalising the tapestry-as-news school of carpetry that had its most famous early example in the Bayeux Tapestry, which detailed William the Conqueror’s usurpation of the English throne.
Many thanks to Pál Szabó for alerting me to these strange mats.
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