Afghan War Rugs: The Modern Art of Central Asia

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 - 10:30am

Media Contacts: Evelyn Stewart, Director - - 318.329.2237
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The Twin City Art Foundation and the Masur Museum of Art proudly present a new exhibition on view March 14 – June 23, 2018

Member’s Reception & Curator Talk
Friday, March 16, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Curator Annemarie Sawkins to talk at 6:00 pm (bio page 2)
At the Masur Museum of Art, 1400 South Grand Street, Monroe, LA 71202

 Afghan War Rugs: The Modern Art of Central Asia Curated by Enrico Mascelloni and Annemarie Sawkins, PhD
On view March 14 – June 23, 2018

Located in Central Asia, landlocked Afghanistan has been a commercial crossroads served by the historically significant and influential Silk Road for over 2,000 years. It is home to mountain ranges and desert areas covering over 250,000 square miles, making it slightly smaller than Texas. A nexus of ideas and trade between East and West, it has been a site of conflict for centuries. Although Afghanistan won its independence from Great Britain in 1919 and was ruled by its own monarch until 1973, lasting peace had been elusive; recent occupiers have included the Soviet Union, the United States, and Taliban forces.

War rugs are unique to Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, to which many weavers fled following foreign invasions and civil war. Some feature maps, portraits of military heroes, monuments, or cityscapes, but most avidly collected examples showcase weaponry and armaments. Machine guns, assault rifles, bombs, mines, tanks, war planes, and drones figure prominently. Although they are often said to have appeared first after the Soviet invasion in 1979, earlier examples do exist and may express an aspect of the country’s road to modernization. War rugs produced after 1979 derive their imagery from television broadcasts, propaganda posters, and first-hand observation of the reality of daily life in a country under siege.

Rug weaving in Central Asia and the Middle East dates back thousands of years. The process involves knotting individual pieces of colored wool to the warp threads of a loom It can take up to a year to produce a full-sized carpet of a complex rug. The finest examples are made from the wool of Karakul sheep, the oldest known domesticated breed. Designs typically consist of a central field of floral or geometric motifs framed by a decorative border. Until recently, motifs remained largely unchanged for centuries. Major producers of Afghan rugs are the Baluchi, Hazara, Zakini, Taimini, and Turkoman tribes. While weaving has traditionally been considered women’s work, men and children are now recruited out of economic necessity. The nearly 40 war rugs in this exhibition come from several distinguished private collections.

Our guest speaker Annemarie Sawkins, PhD, is an independent curator, art historian, and author born in Durham, England. She is currently working on two different collections of hand-colored photographs from China and Japan respectively. March exhibitions include FOLD: artists’ accordion books in Milwaukee and nevertheless, she persisted: Prints by Contemporary Women Artists, in Madison, WI. Sawkins assisted with the publication of Layton’s Legacy: A Historic American Art Collection, 1888–2013 and More Love: Art, Politics and Sharing since the 1990s for the Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. From 1999 to 2012, she was a curator at the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, where she organized Lucinda Devlin: The Omega Suites (2010), Louise Bourgeois: Recent Works (2007), Eve Sussman: 89 Seconds at Alcazar (2005), Honoré Daumier: Political Caricaturist of the Nineteenth Century (2003), and Man Ray on Paper (2002) among other exhibitions. While at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 1997–1999, Sawkins contributed to A Renaissance Treasury: The Flagg Collection of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture (1999). A frequent juror and portfolio reviewer, Annemarie Sawkins has a MA and PhD in Art/Architectural History from McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Cityscape Rug with Bridge over the Bosphorus, Knotted wool, Western Afghanistan, Acquired in Europe, mid-1980s, Courtesy of private collection.
Cityscape Rug with Bridge over the Bosphorus, Knotted wool, Western Afghanistan, Acquired in Europe, mid-1980s, Courtesy of private collection.

Portrait Rug (Amanullah Khan), Knotted wool, Afghanistan, Acquired in Peshawar (Pakistan), 1985, Courtesy of private collection.

Wardak Province, central Afghanistan, Image courtesy of Cultural Section of the Embassy of Afghanistan, Washington, D.C.

About the Masur Museum of Art
The Masur Museum of Art is the largest collecting and exhibiting institution of modern and contemporary art in Northeast Louisiana. We are dedicated to bringing dynamic public programming to our community that emphasizes artists from Louisiana, the Southeast, and around the world.

The Masur Museum of Art is a division of the City of Monroe’s Department of Community Affairs. Exhibitions and educational programs are funded by the Twin City Art Foundation. Programs of the Masur Museum are supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council. Funding has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Art Works. This project is also funded in part by a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. Further funding is provided by the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council and CenturyLink . For more information about events and programing please visit, like us on Facebook, or call 318.329.2237. 

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