Monday, September 26, 2011

The War Rug Project at GRAM/Art Prize 2011


The War Rug Project installation at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) is comprised of 3 framed monoprints of the Silk Road War Rug monoprints from 2006 (right), three original war rugs (left), a book, cards and the newly made 9/11 War Rug on a platform. Two of the original rugs are 9/11 war rugs, and one dates from the Soviet occupation in the early 1980s. That carpet is the larger one on the right, and it was the inspiration for the Silk Road prints. Oh yes, and that's me in the middle, working away with the spices.

It was surprisingly moving to methodically render the twin towers, their windows, the jets and explosions in spices. It was a relief to make the flags and peace dove, with their big flat planes of color. And especially liberating to be able to make the aircraft carrier and the jets queuing up, all of which seemed quite free-form.

Of course I wondered what the weavers thought about the images they were slowly making. The explosions have become flattened and abstracted and the words, originally in English describing the events of 9/11, are long obliterated, as the pattern has been repeated for a decade by weavers who could never read them in the first place.

You can see the day-by-day progress here. And read about the 9/11 rugs here.

photo by Dianne Carroll Burdick.

The completed spice installation, Sept 11, 2011
The completed spice installation, Sept 11, 2011

"Twin Towers- Tribute Rug Carpet-9/11 2001- USA History" was completed on the morning of Sunday, September 11, 2011 at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It is named after the title of the original war rug's Ebay listing.

The spice installation took about 6 days to make, and It was great to be able to build it while the museum was open, and have many conversations with people while I was making it. Lots of questions about the origin of the patterns, the spices used (the blue is colored sugar), how the prints are made, and what keeps it there (gravity!). The finishing touch was to place the firecracker fringe border that Tim made underneath.

Wonderful enthusiasm from the security staff, who are now very concerned that something will happen to the artwork. They are correct! I was there for the first impact, when a little boy dropped his toy onto it. Oops! But, the imperfection lets the rug reveal itself for what it really is. Spices.

We will pull prints of the installation on the last day of the show, Sunday October 9 at 2:00 pm. Join us!

photo by John Corriveau

Friday, September 2, 2011

9/11 War Rugs, Then and Now

Barbara Koenen

Last month, we purchased a new "9/11" war rug on Ebay, and then my friend, the artist Lynn Basa, lent me one she purchased shortly after the attack in 2001. It's interesting to compare the two.

War rugs originate from the 1979 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and mostly depict patterns of weapons, and sometimes maps of specific events or places. 9/11 Rugs appeared shortly after the terrorist attacks in 2001 and subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan.

Both Lynn's and my 9/11 rugs depict the World Trade Center with jets flying into both towers simultaneously. It looks as though the image was based on a collage of media photographs from both seperate attacks. Both rugs depict US and Afghan flags, with a superimposed dove of peace linking them. Both have the outline of Afghanistan in the background. Both are anchored by a closeup of a US aircraft carrier with jets on board and taking off, and a missle being launched.

But notice the differences. On Lynn's earlier rug, all the words are in English, and very legible. There is a lot of detail, especially in the line drawings of helicopter, jets and the windows of the World Trade Center. The palette is very simple and reductive, and curiously, the stars of US flag are reversed.

In the same way that a cartoon that has been xeroxed or faxed over and over eventually loses its meaning, or when the game of Telephone ends up telling a different story after being whispered in so many ears, much of the detail in the new version of the 9/11 War Rug doesn't read like the original. None of the words are legible, except the year "2001" and the letters "USA". There is more color and experimentation with the design, and the jet explosions have become oddly flattened. Many X's fill in the background, depicting, perhaps, explosions, mines or casualties (experienced or anticipated).

Thousands of these rugs have been made since 2001, yet it is virtually impossible to know who the original artist is, or who the many different weavers now are. They are probably women, in the countryside of Afghanistan or a refugee camp in Pakistan. They are probably opium addicts, illiterate, confined to their home, and forbidden to leave unescorted by a male relative.

These rugs are collected by soldiers, including General Tommy Franks who famously bought a bunch as souvenirs and gifts when he retired, and by people like me. They have almost no value for commercial rug dealers, yet they continue to be made, as the tragedy continues to evolve and people need somehow to remember.