Monday, August 17, 2009

William Morris and the Muslims

William Morris and the Muslims

Journalist Navid Akhtar examines the influence of Islamic design and values in the life of Victorian designer, poet, and craftsman William Morris.

The designs of William Morris are inextricably linked to the curving sinuous arabesques of traditional Islamic Art.

One of the domes of the Mir-i Arab Madrasah, Uzbekistan

He was inspired by Turkish ceramics and Persian carpets to create a new movement in British design.

For him the Muslim world had managed to preserve the art of the craftsman and avoid the ills of industrial production.

However his admiration went beyond the surface, Morris was influenced by Islamic ideas of what art should be.

His famous advice to "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful," echoes the Muslim saying in the Koran that "God is beautiful and loves beauty".

Morris's artistic ideas including his love for nature, the use of repetition and symmetry, belief in everyday beautiful objects and emphasis on craft are essential Islamic artistic ideals too.

He espoused the philosophy that art should be affordable and hand-made; this was already a reality in the Islamic world.

Not stopping at arts and crafts, he was a passionate advocate of social utopianism and believed in the rights of the worker.

Today, these ideals have profoundly influenced a new generation of British-born Muslim artists as they rediscover Morris and look to his artistic work and socialist ideas for inspiration.

Navid Akhtar examines Morris's interest in Islamic design and takes us on a journey that has come full circle from the arts and crafts movement to contemporary British Islamic Art.

This documentary was first broadcast on click Radio 4 and first aired on BBC world Service on the 10th of August 2009.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

AFGHANISTAN: Carpet Industry Crippled Without Govt Help

AFGHANISTAN: Carpet Industry Crippled Without Govt Help
By Hashim Qiam*

KABUL, Aug 13 (IPS) - Carpet weaving has long been a part of Afghanistan's history and culture.

Though it is unclear exactly when Afghans began making carpets, it is believed that long ago, women poured their emotions into the carpets they created, telling stories of hero's and prophets. Since that time, carpets have come to symbolise Afghan national dignity and stand as a testament to the creativity of her people.

Monawar Shah Haqbin, an Afghan historian, says that when kings in Afghanistan wanted to bestow precious gifts on one another, carpets were usually their first choice.

Also, when women wanted to marry, carpets were a crucial part of any dowry. Even today, when Afghan celebrities or public officials make an appearance during times of national celebration, they often do so on a red carpet, weaved by Afghan craftsmen.

Now, carpet weaving has an even more vital role as one of the few viable industries left in Afghanistan.

It is easy to set up a loom in the home and the materials for getting started are inexpensive and easily obtainable. Women can pick up the skill and make money for their families without having to leave the home and children.

While the northern part of Afghanistan has traditionally been the carpet-production epicentre of the country, since the Taliban came to power in the 1990's, the importance of Kabul to carpet production has grown. Women who could no longer go to school or work because of Taliban restrictions, could still make money by weaving carpets.

After the regime was toppled, the new government undertook many initiatives to train and monetise carpet production by Afghan women.

But still, the lack of large-scale resources to cut, wash and finish these carpets has crippled Afghanistan's ability to fully capitalise on one of its most valuable commodities. Experts say that until the government provides resources for start-to-finish production of Afghan carpets, the profit from these products will continue to go to those outside Afghanistan's borders.

Pakistan, Afghanistan's southern neighbour, has taken advantage of its proximity to the highest quality carpets in the world. The government of that country has made the carpet business easy for manufacturers and exporters.

Mohammad Esau, a former Afghan warlord who owns a carpet shop in the Pakistani town of Atak, says that Afghans in the area are currently operating hundreds of carpet factories. He adds that Pakistan's government has even offered him and other weavers citizenship, enticing them to make permanent homes on that side of the border.

A significant number of native Pakistanis are also involved in the carpet production business, but they tend to work in the finishing stages of production unavailable in Afghanistan, while the Afghans are responsible for the weaving and looming.

Pakistan's government has also made it easier for carpet producers to do business. They lend as much as 80 percent of initial investment capital to producers and give 13 percent tax credits on each shipping container full of carpets exported out of the country.

By comparison, the Afghan government's attempts to prop up the carpet industry are woefully inadequate.

In August 2007, the Afghan government held an inaugural carpet exhibition, called 'Let's Cover The World', in Kabul. Solyman Fatemi, former executive director of the Association of Promotion of Afghan Exports and Ahmad Zia Massoud, vice president of the Economic Committee in Government, pledged that "by opening a bridge of friendship between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Afghan handicrafts and carpet exports will be increased."

The officials promised help with marketing and other promotional assistance, and also land-grants for carpet producers to build factories. But like so many promises from the government, Barik Andish says, no marketing was ever done and the land grants never materialised.

Mollem Salman Taj, who exports carpets from Pakistan to the wider world, says that while Afghan carpets have a superb reputation as the finest available, three decades of war have caused a rift between international carpet dealers and Afghan producers.

Taj says that marketing is the key for Afghanistan to re-establish its dominance of the carpet market. This would both help Afghanistan as an international brand, and perhaps entice Afghan carpet weavers who have fled to Pakistan or Iran to come back home.

There are still many native Afghans who have chosen to stay here and ply their craft. Sareqi, Gul-e-Barjaste, Zaher Shahi, Mashvani, Turkmani, Khal Mohammadi, Gul-Muri are the names of just a few of the 173 traditional Afghan carpet styles that are still produced almost exclusively in this country.

But exclusively is different from entirely. While these carpets are fabricated here, they are "finished" that is, cut, washed and completed in Pakistan. After the rugs are completed, they are affixed with a 'Made in Pakistan' label and shipped to buyers in Italy, France and Germany.

Part of the reason that the entire production process can't take place in Afghanistan is due to a lack of resources. Noor Ghori, who makes carpets in Afghanistan, says that cutting and dying of the carpets takes equipment and materials that Afghan producers can't afford.

As a result, the world loses a traditional Afghan product, and Afghans lose the full profit of their hard work and craftsmanship.

(*This is the second of a two-part investigative series on Afghanistan's famed carpet industry by Killid Weekly. IPS and Killid Media, an independent Afghan group, have been partners since 2004.) (END/2009)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Renowned Rug Cleaning Company, Right in West Philly

Posted: Saturday, 01 August 2009 4:29AM

A Renowned Rug Cleaning Company, Right in West Philly

by KYW's Lauren Lipton
People from all over the country look to Philadelphia for many things. And believe it or not, rug cleaning has become one of them.
"People are sending us rugs from all over the place -- as far away as Washington State -- and many come from Florida."
That's Robert Zakian (above), owner of Zakian Bros. Oriental Rug Cleaning Specialists.
(Zakian:) "Back in the the '20s, my grandfather [far right] was going door to door. They would wash the rugs in our basement and then hang them on lines outside."
Now, through the magic of UPS and the Internet, they're going state to state as people from all over the country join people here in the Delaware Valley in sending their rugs to West Philadelphia to get them cleaned.
(Zakian:) "It's different than cleaning someone's pants or suit. People really have a love for their rugs."
And it's quite a process.
(Worker:) "It was in a flood, so it really needs to be thoroughly cleaned."
(Zakian:) "Check-in time is kind of the fun time. I pick up runs all day long, and I'll always hear on the PA system, they're paging Ali to come to the back. Ali's my head repair guy."
(Ali:) "There was water damage. It sat there for a long time. We're going to eliminate this, then re-seam it by hand."
(Zakian:) "A woman sent this in. It was her grandmother's, and it's dry-rotted badly. She really wants us to save it -- and we're going to."
This family-owned business has remained in Philadelphia all these years because they love it here. And it's a good thing, because the equipment is not going anywhere easily.
(Zakian:) "Just the rollers are probably about three tons each. And then there are steel rollers under that. You could land an aircraft carrier on top of it."
For more information, including tips on how to care for your own rugs, go to
That's Positively Philadelphia!

Related topics: Oriental Rug Cleaning Austin