Quotes of the Day

Monday, Oct. 21, 2002

Open quoteFrom the Trojan siege that spawned Homer's Iliad to the Luftwaffe bombing that inspired Picasso's Guernica, war has long served as a midwife for art. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the ensuing horror found expression in the most traditional Afghan art form葉he Oriental rug. Two Afghan tribal groups, the Chahar Aimaq and the Baloch, expanded their color palette and changed their subject matter to reflect the jarring reality that their homeland had become a battlefield. Over the next decade, they produced carpets featuring rocket launchers, machine guns, bombs, and helicopter gunships. In lesser numbers, these carpets are still produced. Collectors describe them as a vital emotional response to the country's devastation, souvenirs for departing Soviet soldiers, and profit engines to raise cash for mujahedin guerrillas.

The most subtly resonant of the rugs are those in which a rocket launcher replaces a traditional filigree theme, a tank substitutes for an octagon, or a minaret is swapped for a gun barrel葉hose where the war has just begun to impose itself on an otherwise eternal field. The changed landscape of these carpets echoes the changed landscape of the weavers' own countryside: a sky that had seen so few commercial jetliners becomes filled with bombers and missiles. In some of the later rugs, war machinery overwhelms the entire weave. All the traditional imagery has been obliterated, leaving two giant Kalashnikovs and a couple of helicopters squeezed between their stocks and barrels.

These war rugs have been on display lately at the Dirt Gallery in Los Angeles. Afghanistan's recent travails have made them all the more poignant, and they've sold well. Some buyers are Hollywood hipsters with a penchant for ironic decor. Others have been U.S. soldiers and ex-CIA operatives who could identify the models of the rugs' grenades and guns. Alongside its rug exhibit, the gallery has displayed burqas bearing similarly unexpected imagery such as U.S. flags, phrases like "I love New York," and McDonald's golden arches. "It kind of sums up America," says curator Rhonda Saboff. "It's funny, because it's a McDonald's world." Close quote

  • Ed Leibowitz/los angeles
  • Years of conflict spawned a new take on Afghanistan's most famous handicraft葉he Oriental rug
| Source: Years of conflict spawned a new take on Afghanistan's most famous handicraft葉he Oriental rug