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From Combat to Carpet: The Art of Afghan War Rugs

On display through Aug 30, 2020 at the Museum of International Folk Art

The exhibition made its debut at the Villa Terrace Decorative Art Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and has been traveling throughout the United States. The version opening at MOIFA is supplemented with items from the museum’s permanent collection, including older carpets from the region.

War rugs “are the production of women artists, and of communities speaking globally not just locally,” said co-curator Annemarie Sawkins. “War rugs reflect Afghanistan’s historic and modern place as a busy cultural crossroads. They reveal the observant and innovative nature of the people who produced them.” Afghan “war rugs” gained international attention following the Soviet invasion of 1979 when millions of refugees fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

This unique subset of handwoven rugs can teach us about the innovative nature of rug design and production, as well as the long history of foreign involvement in Afghanistan. Rug producers, provoked by decades of traders and invaders in the country, adapted traditional motifs and compositions, translating them into depictions of world maps, tourist sites, weapons, and military figures. Such war rugs have proven popular among occupying military personnel, journalists, foreign aid workers, international collectors, and contemporary art curators. Over the years, rug makers have continued to update popular imagery and themes to reflect current events, changing technologies, and the tastes of potential buyers.

The emergence of war-related imagery in Afghan rug design has clearly aided the economic survival of area weavers and displaced craftspeople through years of armed conflict and cultural disruption. What war rugs mean to individual weavers is less understood. Are war rugs a celebration of modernity or a rejection of war? Are they a witness to shared trauma or a commercialization of violence? Are they testaments to ingenuity and a spirit of survival? Perhaps they are all of these things at once.

From Combat to Carpet Public Opening Location: Cotsen Gallery, Atrium, Auditorium, Museum of International Folk Art Date: January 12, 2020 Time: 1 - 4 p.m. The opening will feature music, a public talk by curator Annemarie Sawkins, and light refreshments provided by the Women’s Board.

Also on exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art


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