past Exhibition

    Unknown maker in Baghlan, Afghanistan, War Rug with Map of Afghanistan, date unknown; acquired in Peshawar, Pakistan, 1998. Knotted wool, 71 ¾ x 45 ¼ inches. Private collection

    Unknown maker in Western Afghanistan, War Rug with Peacocks, date unknown; acquired in Peshawar, Pakistan, 1994. Knotted wool, 57 1/2 x 33 1/2 inches. Private collection

Afghan War Rugs: The Modern Art of Central Asia

Jan 24 – Apr 19, 2015


In Spring 2015, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art presents the most distinct collection of Afghan war rugs in the world. Afghan War Rugs: The Modern Art of Central Asia brings to the United States more than 30 large and small-scale contemporary weavings from Afghanistan. These compelling examples of contemporary craft—traditionally made by women artists and sold in bazaars of Kabul, Heart, Mazar-i Sharif, as well as the Pakistani cities Peshawar and Islamabad—reflect the country’s war-ridden history. Classical rugs feature geometric and floral designs arranged in columns or rows.  In war rugs, these motifs are replaced with world maps, political portraits, cityscapes, Soviet and Unites States tanks, soldiers, fighter jets, antiaircraft missile launchers and helicopters. The mostly female makers of these rugs update historic precedents to produce representations of contemporary visual culture. Their subjects come from images, personal observations, verbal accounts and news media reports of current events. The rugs themselves then become their own unique visual document.

War rugs are a phenomenon unique to Afghanistan. Bordering six different countries (China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan), Afghanistan’s diverse history is rich with languages, art forms and culture. However, the last thirty-five years represent a dramatic violent period in this small country’s history. Many of these rugs depict the Soviet invasion in 1979, the 1996 Taliban government takeover and the resultant United Nations and NATO involvement. The most recent rugs depict events following the tragedies of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent U.S. military invasion.

Organized and curated by Enrico Mascelloni and Annemarie Sawkins, PhD
Sponsored locally by Joan Cremin, Paul Giancola and Carrie Lynn Richardson, and Tamar Weiss in memory of Emil Weiss


Exhibition Brochure Timeline of Afghanistan