Afghan War Rugs

Review: Pat Markovich on Afghan Political and War Rugs

On May 10, 2003 Pat Markovich spoke to SFBARS about Afghan Political and War Rugs. She described these as rugs that document power struggles, whether political or religious, and which tell us something about the way that weavers experience contemporary history. Today these rugs are often treated as folk art and are not of interest to museums, galleries or collectors - and yet they are documents with which illiterate weavers describe the experience of war and political conflict, and in the long run will become part of the historical record.

Political rugs are pictorial, and often include writing, even by illiterate weavers. Pat showed a number of rugs to illustrate the way the weapons of war evolve into more abstract rug designs. Her son - Dr. Michael Treece - identified AK74 and AK47 designs in rugs, drawings of grenades that gradually evolved into Boteh-like designs, and the way that Russian helicopters and bird designs are juxtaposed in rugs, and gradually merge. Pat also showed a United Nations poster printed on cloth that was designed to warn Afghans about the danger of 'toe poppers' (plastic bottles filled with nitroglycerin), and how those drawings later show up in rugs.

Pat also made a number of interesting comments about why she collects Political and War Rugs. In part, by collecting rugs that document contemporary history when others dismiss them as kitsch she fulfills the responsibility of collectors to preserve folk art forms before they are recognized as important by high-culture institutions like museums. In part, it is possible to build a comprehensive collection of these rugs because they are inexpensive, and one never knows when one will come across an important discovery. And most importantly, these rugs have personality, they tell something about the life of the weaver, and her attempt to make sense of terrifying situations.

pl editor