Friday, March 23, 2007

Afghan tribal 'war rug' collection reveals artistic skill, violent imagery

Afghan tribal 'war rug' collection reveals artistic skill, violent imagery
BY MARY BAUER
Pioneer Press
Article Last Updated: 03/23/2007 07:06:30 AM CDT


Tory Ferrey sits among a collection of her Afghan tribal "war rugs" including one depicting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City in the Mahtomedi home of her friend Deb Lauer. (BEN GARVIN, Pioneer Press)Tory Ferrey's custom bumper sticker might read: Make rugs, not war. But the White Bear Lake resident does not object to art that does both: war rugs.

"At first I didn't want any of them," she said. "I thought they were kind of grisly. But we were able to get them."

Ferrey, a teacher's aide in the Mahtomedi school district, has about 40 Afghan tribal war rugs that depict everything from arrowheads to AK-47s. They make up a small part of her collection of Persian rugs that once numbered 600.

War rugs have become highly collectible in the past decade for a number of reasons.

Some of the appeal lies in the surprise factor, said Mark Traxler, of Mankato, Minn., a tribal rug collector and rug weaver well-known on rug-related Internet sites.

Traxler collects pieces 150 years old or older, but he has watched with interest as war rugs bloomed in the past decade.

"Western images of tanks and helicopters represented in a Middle Eastern form does not fit your idea of a normal Oriental rug," he said. "At the same time, it reflects something about weaving, in general, as representative art."

The weavers, he said, were trying to portray things important in their worlds, or in the case of tanks and machine guns, startling additions to their lives.

Added Ferrey: "They document everything that happens to them" in art.

The sense that the rugs portray an important time in history likely also appeals to some collectors, Traxler said.

Also, the supply of quality antique rugs has shrunk, he said, and what is for sale is exorbitantly priced.
"But you can obtain a meaningful piece of this new form for less money," he said.

Ferrey stumbled onto war rugs three years ago through her son, Nathan, then 9. He spotted a rug on the Internet auction site eBay and asked her to buy it. She thought it was a prayer rug until it arrived, when she could clearly make out images of helicopters, fighter jets and convoys. A city was being bombed.

The modern era of war rugs begins with the decade-long Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. One rug shows the bombing of a mosque. Another shows Soviet tanks headed away from Afghanistan, with deer stags, a favorite symbol of Afghan rugs, featured prominently.
As a collector, Ferrey is less interested in value than in workmanship and symbolism. She can tell the approximate age of a rug by the change in weaponry and materials. In recent years, the guns have gotten smaller, she said, and the helicopters bigger.

Two Sept. 11 patterns have become much copied, she said. She avoided the one depicting bodies falling from the flaming World Trade Center towers and chose another that included a dove. Shortly after the 9/11 rugs emerged, another design appeared showing Afghans helping U.S. troops search in Tora Bora for Osama bin Laden.

Imagery is more subtle in other rugs. She points to what at first glance seems to be a prayer rug.

"It's a very pretty rug, and then you realize this is a truck convoy around the border," she said.

English words are often misspelled. Most of the female weavers, she said, don't speak English and are likely copying unfamiliar symbols from paper.

War rugs have caught on among collectors in recent years, but Ferrey and Traxler said they are ancient in practice. Ferrey pulled out a rug with prominent horses rimmed with arrowheads, signs of power and conflict.

"It's part of being men," she said. "They're proud of their weapons. These

rugs were never made for women."
The rugs make for good lessons in talks she has given to church groups with her friend Deb Lauer, of Mahtomedi, also an aide in the Mahtomedi school district. Men in the audience perk up at the sight and pick out the different makes of guns and grenades.

Ferrey and Lauer have sold much of Ferrey's larger collection over the past two years to benefit various charities, including Afghan education. They've raised $38,000 so far, and Ferrey is down to about 200 rugs, which she hopes to sell at two remaining charity auctions, one of them Saturday.

Ferrey would like to sell the war rugs, too, but as a group to a museum or collector who appreciates the art and suffering of the people who made them.

"They're proud and very arrogant people," she said. "A lot like Americans."
Tory Ferrey's collection of about 40 Afghan tribal "war rugs" includes designs from the 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and 9/11's aftermath.

If You Go Tory Ferrey and Deb Lauer are having two final rug sales for charity. The first will be from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the White Bear Lake Armory, 2228 Fourth St., White Bear Lake. Proceeds benefit the Partnership for Education of Children in Afghanistan. Rugs range in price from $40 to $800, depending on the size and condition. Many of the rugs have been used in Afghan homes.

The second sale will be April 21 at the Urban Arts Academy, 3901 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis. Proceeds will be split between the academy and an Afghan relief group.
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