I spent Saturday indoors doing the final show jurying with my two male colleagues at the other end of the e-mail. It was difficult, many tough choices to make, but we did finally put together a very strong show. Sunday, I spent indoors writing my statement (which I sent in on time but still think could have been better), filling out various paperwork, updating my bio, and working on other written deadline stuff. That two days of unrelenting computer-based work happened while I looked out longingly at glorious sun, beautiful balmy weather. Today, I have only a bit left to do before finally embarking on my spring break….and it’s gray and raining.
I worked on the intermediate stages of the jurying while in Farmville, too, borrowing Kerri’s office while she was out at meetings, appointments and teaching classes I wasn’t a guest in. We both worked pretty hard; the great pleasure was that when we were together, we got to talk and talk and talk, and that was much fun, easygoing like in the past, automatically doing the paper studio tasks, helping each other without needing to ask or explain what was needed. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced that rhythm, and I realize how very much I’ve missed it. We ended up going for dinner rather late each day, so it wasn’t until after the last class and packing up and before my flight that we got out into the town; we had a late and very pleasant lunch with one of Kerri’s colleagues, Kelly, and then had a couple of hours to kill before the drive to Richmond.
Kerri wanted to show me a ‘rug store’; she said that the place’s combined holdings were the size of three football fields put together. I was not particularly interested, but agreed to go. I was glad I did. She wasn’t exaggerating; it was gigantic room after gigantic room, all full of intricate ‘Oriental’ carpets of every size, color combination and design you could possibly imagine, thousands in each room. It was amazing to ponder how all these things ended up in a small town smack in the middle of Virginia.
Many, if not most of them were from Afghanistan. After searching through several enormous spaces, we came upon a small pile of the rugs Kerri wanted to show me. I knew, of course, somewhere back in my art-history-course-saturated brain that weavers have been weaving records of combat since weaving began, but these took my breath away. Tanks, rocket launchers, grenades, helicopters, woven in terrible, resonant beauty, together with some humor and enormous pathos:
I looked them up; apparently these images started appearing in exports from Afghanistan shortly after the Soviets invaded, in 1979.
If I could have found a small one, I’d have bought it in a second, my personal uncertain future notwithstanding. It would have been a constant reminder of how comparatively comfortable my experience of uncertainty actually is.
“For thousands of years, the woman of nomadic tribes in what is now Afghanistan and its environs have been weaving rugs by hand. These traditional pieces of folk art have long depicted the same deeply rooted motifs and patterns, with occasional images derived from the artist’s everyday experiences. However, about 25 years ago, all that suddenly changed. Following the 1979 Soviet invasion into Afghanistan, rug dealers began seeing drastic alterations in the content of Afghani rugs. Tanks replaced flowers, rocket launchers replaced vases and airplanes replaced abstract borders!”
“After the Soviet departure from Afghanistan the new ruling power instituted the strict Muslim Sharia law which governs the religious, political, social, domestic and private life. This law stripped many Afghani women of basic rights including banning them from talking to men outside of their family, walking outside alone, or working. Women were also made to abide by the practice of purdah which is the seclusion of women from public observation by having them wear concealing clothing from head to toe, like a burka, and by the use of high walls, curtains and screens erected within the home. This separates the women from learning about the outside world in order to make them ignorant of the practicalities of life and deprives the woman of economic independence by not allowing them to work outside the home. In order to keep females submissive, women know only what their fathers, husbands, and sons want them to know. The women who practice purdah have no voice or free will. For women who break the fatwas, or edicts, associated with Sharia law, including purdah, there are dire consequences including harsh beatings or even death. Additionally, since Sharia law dictates that it is taboo to represent animate subjects in art; weavers were no longer allowed to portray images of birds, animals or people.”
“Thus as the artists iconography changed so did their outlets for expressing it. Those living outside of the war-torn Afghanistan can’t comprehend the reality of living in a world where the images depicted through the rugs are a part of everyday life. To the women of Afghanistan the rugs have become a way to make their voices heard and to communicate to the rest of the world what they live with everyday.”