Modern Machines in Antique Craft: Drones and Middle Eastern Rugs

Drones and Other Wartime Imagery in Middle Eastern Rugs

Modern Wartime Middle Eastern Rugs — Over the past weeks, the Nazmiyal Collection has begun publishing our glossary of antique rug symbols and motifs and their meanings. Our research into the subject of why tribal weavers include certain imagery in their rug designs has shown that weavers tend to incorporate imagery related to their spirituality as well as motifs from everyday life. Imagery such as local plant life, herding and hunting animals, and scenes depicting religious practice have been common in Middle Eastern rugs for centuries. However, over the past several years, new motifs have been appearing in these artisanal weavings: Symbols of war and technology.

A Modern Wartime Rug from Afghanistan | Nazmiyal Design Blog
A Modern Wartime Rug from Afghanistan | Nazmiyal Design Blog

Motifs such as tanks and war planes began appearing on Middle Eastern rugs in the 1980’s, when sects of Mujahadeen were engaged in fighting with the Soviets, who had been occupying territory in Afghanistan. Images such as guns, war vehicles, and grenades began replacing the more typical floral sprays and geometric designs in traditional rug patterns. Collectors and researchers of this trend say that the reasons for the inclusion of such imagery are varied — some weavers incorporated these themes as a sort of protest or political statement, while other weavers were just doing what they always had: incorporating images from daily life into their artwork.

As tensions between the Middle East and the West have intensified over the past twenty years, rugs incorporating war imagery have increased. In recent years, imagery of Soviet forces have been replaced by that of the United States military. Most recently, the controversial subject of drones has been woven into Afghan rugs.

Image of a tank woven into a modern Middle Eastern Rug | Nazmiyal Design Blog
Image of a tank woven into a modern Middle Eastern Rug | Nazmiyal Design Blog

Unlike the traditional roles of tribal weavers, in which women were the primary artisans, many of these wartime rugs are being woven by people of all ages and sexes, many of which are refugees. Alarmingly, as the value of these political and timely rugs increases, the marketplace is responding: One account tells of a particular war rug design that was featured on a collector’s blog which received a large amount of press. In a short amount of time, copy-cat rugs of this same design began appearing in great numbers. This awareness of the market value of these unique rugs implies that they may be being created by a captive workforce, including forced labor or child labor.

Although western collectors have been unable to identify the exact weavers of these controversial rugs, one thing is clear: With over 1,000 civilians in Pakistan alone killed by drone strikes in the past decade, these rugs continue the weaving tradition of incorporating common aspects of daily life into artwork. Unfortunately, daily life for Middle Eastern rug weavers today is often increasingly warlike.

Below are examples of more typical Middle Eastern rug designs, from the Nazmiyal Collection:

Antique Afghan Bashir Prayer Rug 47375
Antique Afghan Bashir Prayer Rug 47375
Antique Pakistani Sultanabad Rug 44146
Antique Pakistani Sultanabad Rug 44146
Antique Persian Heriz Serapi Rug 43696
Antique Persian Heriz Serapi Rug 43696