Saturday, July 3, 2010

War rugs

On my very first day in Kabul, I saw a carpet for sale at the Serena Hotel gift shop that struck me as gaudy and comic: a knotted depiction of tanks and grenades carefully labeled in English. I assumed it was some kind of touristy nonsense and dismissed it.

Tagging along with carpet-shopping friends yesterday, I learned that not only is that (admittedly kitschy example) a relatively common souvenir, it's also part of a far richer history of war rugs dating to the 1980s. Until recently, there was a War Rug gallery in New York, and even a show in Chelsea. There's even a Rugs of War blog.

Soviet-era war rugs have become rather valuable artifacts as both art and anthropology, and the tradition has continued in styles both weirdly beautiful and frightfully tacky. Some samples I saw yesterday (please forgive the photos; the thought of writing about these didn't occur to me until later, so I didn't even attempt to take blog-worthy pictures).

A Soviet-period rug Natalie put on hold; this carpet's war imagery is subtle - the pattern in the center is Kalashnikovs shooting at snakes, and yet the design is symmetrical and not particularly violent.

A modern rug detailing various weapons in surprising detail.

Another less-obvious war rug, this a recent sample - the pattern is of urban life, with roads and buildings, but also helicopters and tanks running along the lower border, just outside the city.

And the blatant - 9/11 and the "war on terror", woven by someone who clearly reversed the pattern (enlarge the image and you'll see the English labels are all backwards).

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