The peoples of Afghanistan have a rich and distinguished textile history. The Baluch and the Turkman, the Tajik and the Hazara, are among the tribal groups that produce embroideries, felts and knotted pile woven textiles that reflect their identities, beliefs, and ways of life. The Baluch, for example, were nomadic herders whose belongings needed to be portable. They are known in the West as the producers of deeply coloured pile carpets of unprecedented lushness. Made entirely by hand, pile carpets were prized possessions that served as bedding or seating and could be easily rolled up for transport.
With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 a new genre of rug emerged. Baluch weavers in the vicinity of Herat, the site of intense resistance to the Soviet-backed regime, began incorporating new motifs into their carpets. Geometric medallions were replaced with guns, tanks, helicopters and jets, inspired by the Soviet armaments that undoubtedly confronted them in the streets.
We do not know whom these early War Rugs were woven for; we do know that they are produced from Mashad to Peshawar and many refugee camps in between. We also know they are purchased by foreign soldiers and aid workers in Afghanistan and that there is a small overseas market for them. And we suspect that few War Rugs are actually used by Afghan people. Where early War Rugs retained their traditional format and motifs, the most recent are poster or post-card-like. They draw inspiration from current events including the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001.
Loved by some, War Rugs are dismissed as kitsch by others. They remain enigmatic reactions to the political turmoil, personal tragedy, and economic chaos that has engulfed Afghanistan since 1979.
Michele A. Hardy, PhD., Nickle Galleries
The Fyke Collection of Afghan War Rugs
Robert Fyke (July 19th, 1966 - January 22nd, 2009)
Photograph by Bill Faulkner, used with permission
In 2005 Robert Fyke approached The Nickle Arts Museum about the possibility of developing an exhibition that examined Afghan War Rugs. The exhibition and publication resulting from that meeting, "Made in Afghanistan: Rugs and Resistance, 1979-2005" was a tremendous success and a very gratifying project to be involved in. In 2008 Rob's collection was loaned to the Nickle and in early 2009, with his health deteriorating, donated. He was a uniquely generous, inspiring and provocative friend and colleague.
Rob's five steps to facing a life crisis:
This digital project is dedicated to Rob Fyke and his family.