Rug, T2008.1.94
Posted: Jan 8th, 2020 | Collection Spotlight

This object of the week was chosen, researched and written by Karie Liao, former curator-in-residence at the Textile Museum of Canada.

This textile features Paghman Gardens. The gardens are located at the entrance of Paghman, a small district to the west of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Paghman was a vacation retreat with villas and chalets, at the bottom of the Hindu Kush mountain range, in the early twentieth-century. Even after becoming a Soviet-Afghan battleground in the 1980s, the village remained a summer getaway for locals from the city.

At the front of the gardens is the Taq-e-Zafar, a victory arch commissioned by King Amanullah Khan to commemorate the nation’s independence from Great Britain in 1919. Designed by a Turkish architect, the gate resembles European-style monuments such as Paris’ Arc de Triomphe or Rome’s Arch of Titus. At the close of the twentieth century, the arch was irreparably damaged by civil war following Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 but was rebuilt from 2003 to 2005.

According to the object description on the TMC website, the imagery on this rug is an identical replication of a postcard from the Hilario collection, part of the alumni website of the American International School of Kabul (1965-1979). The picture postcard is an interesting form of material culture as it often provides a historical window into everyday life. It is a trace of a particular time, place, and memory. Denied access to the postcard’s message (if there is any writing on the back at all), we are reminded of the object’s limitations; the transience, sentimentality, obsolescence and nostalgia it embodies. Many artists and thinkers have used the postcard as a platform for artistic expression or a point of departure to discuss commodification, colonialism, exchange rituals, semiotics, among other subjects.

The postcard and the rug share similar significance and value as cultural and social artifacts. While seemingly more permanent than the postcard in its scale and tangibility, the imagery on this rug of bygone monuments iterates the impermanence of all things; a fate that the rug eventually cannot escape. Its ephemerality is further emphasized as the rug is a representation of a representation of a photograph of architectural memorials that no longer exist. Unlike the postcard, the rug has the ability to occupy and transform a space. Metaphorically, the postcard transports us back in time and to a faraway place, while the rug can take us home. One of my favourite aspects of this rug is the evidence of translation from 2D to 3D, such as the distorted written name of the Paghman Victory Arch in the sky among the tetris-shaped white clouds. The distortion echoes the malleability of memory or the latency in dreams, an apt characteristic for this subtle rug of war and its concealed violence and trauma.

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