War Rugs- Conflict, Culture, And Art

Significance of art as revolutionary expressions

There have been multiple instances in history of artistic visual expressions. Art, be it in the form of paintings, music, dance, sculptures, or any other medium, is undeniably the best way to peacefully propagate one’s ideologies and beliefs around the group it is targeted at.

War rugs

During the times when many societies largely functioned under the Monarchy form of a government, artists created artworks to represent the reign in which they operated. These artworks would then be acquired by the patronage with an intention to provide fame to their own family name. These works, due to their artistic value and uniqueness were priceless possessions that only the most influential homes of that era could possess. Art was indeed valued in those times due to lack of technology, means, and exposure.

However, there were some artists for whom their art was not just art, it was a voice, a howl, and a roar that reverberated through every society where injustice happened. The purpose of these artistic expressions was to create a noise that would be otherwise be silenced due to the intolerant governing system and laws at the time. Thus, in times of distress, artists confided in their dearest weapons to battle the system- their canvas, colours, and brush. 

Some of the most recognised works among the many: Edouard Manet’s ‘The execution of Emperor Maximillian’ which received the title of political painting, a term that was still new during those times. Even Pablo Picasso spoke through his sincere brushstrokes in his ‘Massacre in Korea’ which depicted the oppression that the citizens faced by the Napoleonic troops reigning over Korea. Another form of revolt was Andy Warhol’s ‘Big Electric Chair’ in 1967, a painting that depicted the mental and emotional torture that American citizens faced due to the passing of death sentence law and its new executioner, the electric chair. It is still considered one of the best works of the contemporary era.

But there was a group of artists who took this revolution a notch higher by expressing through rather unconventional forms of art. Yes, you guessed it right. It was the afghan rugs.

Warps and wefts of war- the rugs of Afghanistan

The soviet invasion of Afghanistan began in the year 1979, and continues till date. Since the invasion began, Afghan rug weavers have found numerous ways to revolt against the injustice happening in the country.

The designs, keeping away from the aesthetically pleasing elements began to incorporate stylised representations of figures such as maps, flags, tanks, drones, and ammunition. The intriguing factor, however, about these rugs was that these rugs, despite their political agendas, did not lose the essence of their craft, design, and art. Despite incorporating functional elements they were conceptualised so beautifully in the design elements that these rugs would look just as good in a museum as they would in a home.

In 1971, the rugs had captured interest of an Italian conceptual artist AlighieroBoetti began acquiring the Afghan rugs to create his popular series of map textiles inspired by his newspaper illustrations that depicted the 6 day Arab-Israeli war. A few years later, when the invasion of US- backed Mujahideen and Soviet invasion started rising, Afghan weavers used the same designs to depict the political maps of Afghanistan and its neighbouring regions fusing them with ammunitions, soldiers, fighter jets, political people relevant from the era, and events.

The designs that came post 2000s featured patterns that depicted some of the most gruesome events from the time, for example, the collapsing of the World Trade Center Towers or 9/11 adorned by peace doves, US flags, and the Afghanistan flags.

Some rugs featured identical tanks, guns, and floral borders encircled by decorative bands of bullets. When the ex US president Barrack Obama became president, the rugs began to incorporate a new, more technologically advanced weapon, the drone. Some of these details are tough to find due to the political conflict that exists between both the nations.


The story of Afghan rugs, woven with the threads of resistance and resilience, reflects the enduring power of art in the face of adversity. In a country marked by decades of conflict and turmoil, these rugs became more than just decorative pieces; they became symbols of defiance and hope. What's truly remarkable is how these weavers managed to seamlessly blend intricate designs with potent political statements, making each rug a work of art that could grace both a museum and a home. The evolution of these rugs, from maps and flags to tanks, drones, and even tragic events like 9/11, reflects the ever-changing narrative of Afghanistan's struggle for freedom and stability. These rugs are not just artefacts; they are a living history of a nation's spirit, tenacity, and creativity. They remind us that even in the darkest of times, the human spirit can find ways to express itself through art, leaving an indelible mark on the world's canvas.

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