Turkmen weavers in Northern Afghanistan have been weaving rugs for thousands of years using traditional classic folk motifs. In response to decades of war, their traditional weaving motifs have evolved to incorporate the day-to-day experiences of the Afghan people. As a result, the traditional weavings have become dark. Gone are the beautiful traditional images of birds and horses. The modern-day use of replicated Picasso paintings and stylized American flags has also been abandoned. Sadly icons of war have dominated their weaving. The modern Afghan “war rug” depicts gunships, grenades, helicopters, tanks, and the Kalashnikov rifle. Initially, brokers and merchants refused to buy these “war rugs.” They feared reprisal and hesitant buyers. Time has increased popularity with these rugs and has found a niche market among Western collectors.
Some 1.6 million Afghans are in the carpet business and a majority of the weavers are women working from home. Under generations of oppression, these women have found their voice through their weavings. “Women in that part of the world have a limited ability to speak out,” says Barry O’Connell, a Washington D.C.-based oriental rug enthusiast. “These rugs may be their only chance to gain a voice in their adult life.”
Afghan “war rugs” are quite beautiful with a powerful message woven in with each thread. These rugs have become one of the world’s richest examples of war art in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Each one is made by women in Afghanistan.
By Mary Ellen