Afghan war rugs

Nigel Lendon in HimalSouthAsian:

AfghanIn late 1989 the last troops of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan had left after a decade of resistance by the various factions of the mujahideen. During this period one finds an extraordinary profusion of visual media opposing the Soviet occupation. Contradictions abound in the visual record of this unhappy decade, and the non-traditional narrative carpets of this period constitute a form of indigenous modernism which occurred independently of other modes of contemporary visual art elsewhere in the world.

The rugs produced as a consequence of the Pakistani diaspora are more radically non-traditional than those which emerged from Iran. From the early 1980s a wide range of anti-Soviet propaganda was produced in Islamabad, and smuggled into Afghanistan. Therefore it is not surprising to find examples of imagery in war rugs reflecting a common propagandistic intent. In this rug,President Najibullah, who ruled until 1992, is represented as a puppet of the Soviet Union. In examples such as this one finds quite complex pictorial fields combined in the one image. The upper register is organised as patterned militaria, from which emerges the giant hand of the Soviet puppeteer (marked with the distorted hammer and sickle) holding the figure of the Afghan President. The central register is taken up by the map of Afghanistan, and Najibullah is shown as under attack from all sides by mujahideen. In contrast, in the lower register (representing Baluchistan), one sees the peaceful past, represented as an idyllic scene of Kuchi nomads.

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