Textiles and Stories

It laid there for many years by the fireplace, this tired looking rug. Slightly threadbare at the sides, it looked as if it were suffering from a bout of anemia, it’s once vivid maroon red, royal blue and golden yellow now disappeared, what was left were faint glimmers of what it once was. It had come all the way from Rasht, in Gilan Province. Bought by my grandparents in the mid-1970’s, it had come to the UK with my father in 1983. From London, it was then on to Hampshire, where it remains, now in a cupboard under the stairs.

It’s these handcrafted objects, no matter how modest, that always have the greatest emotional effect on us. The rug especially we can have such an attachment to, mere floor coverings they may be, but they play a quiet role in our daily lives, something present at family gatherings etc.

Rug Washers in Tehran, Iran, 1960.

My own family’s treasured rug, used so much over a period of nearly 40 years was a handmade creation. In the East, still to this day, the rug remains an important fixture of many a small village’ economy, particularly in Iran and Afghanistan. In mythology, literature and poetry too, the rug has its place, like the Persian rug for example, it’s origins, like many things in Persian history, transcends reality and is brocaded in delightfully dramatic stories.

The story is about a king, Balash, the nineteenth ruler of the Sassanian dynasty. A peacekeeping king, his tale, like much of Persian history, blends reality with fiction. King Balash was reputed to own a giant diamond which was stolen then dropped onto a rocky plain, where it shattered into thousands of glittering fragments. When the king saw the ‘carpet’ of jewels he was so grief-stricken that her refused to leave it. To lure their leader back to his palace, Payem and apprentice carpet maker and his fellows wove a silk carpet as brilliantly coloured as the one made of diamond.

The Persian rug still captures the imagination, as seen in a number of works by contemporary artists, such as Jalal Sepehr. His 2004 project ‘Water and Persian Rugs’ was a beautiful exercise in taking the rug to a new environment. Exhibited at the Silk Road Gallery in Tehran. He said: “What inspired me to take these photos was creating new moments, color contrasts, a diverse quality, and making the rugs float and dance in the water.”

Jalal Sepehr: Water and Persian Rugs (2004)

Jalal’s second photographic exploration with the rug – ‘The Knot’ – was partly inspired by the modern Iranian poet Ahmad Shamlou and his poem ‘To the Scarlet Blossom of a Dress’. “The colors’ silence whisper, The wool’ s palpitation of blood through the knot´vessels, And the fingers’ sweet souls which are trampled.”

Taken in and around the city of Yazd, Jalal took the rug and incorporated it into moments of daily life. Blending tradition with modernity as well as shape, he proved how the rug plays this integral role in society, in prayer, in the home, even in the street.