Exhibition Würzburg 19 Sept - 4 Nov 2006

"Textile Tales from Villages and Tents"

Four Centuries of Rural and Nomadic Textiles


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Ever since they first appeared in western countries in the 13th century, oriental textiles brocaded, woven and knotted have been elements of lifestyle in all European cultures. The production of oriental carpets began to decline when synthetic dyes were invented in the late 19th century. Although the products became inferior in quality the demand for oriental textiles did not decrease in the western world.

Today, vast quantities of carpets are consumed in almost every area of western domestic culture. Oriental patterns and colours have retained their enigmatic appeal for the inexperienced eye, even if they are extremely degenerate.

In order to understand this mysterious attraction we have to consider that the oriental carpet is a creation of the Middle East no matter how close its liaison with European domestic culture may be. In the Middle East, there has always been a close relationship between man and place. Despite hundreds of years of settled existence man in the Middle East has kept memories of his former life in tents. Squatting or lying on cushions and rugs instead of sitting on chairs and sleeping in beds favoured an intense relationship between man and the floor. We take this peculiar tie-up as a reason why (floor) carpets originated in the Middle East while tapestries were first produced in the West.

Furthermore, the knotting of pile rugs could be developed into an art form only in the Middle East, because the Middle Eastern people have always been extremely skilful and experienced in creating ornamental forms. Their extraordinary talent for ornamental design is certainly rooted in the Middle Eastern Islamic approach to art, which is a mystery to anyone brought up with Western traditions. Our inability to catch the message of oriental symbolic forms has made the pile rug and other oriental textiles so mysteriously captivating for the last seven hundred years, irrespective of the fact that urban and courtly knotting skills were forgotten long ago. The works of rural and nomadic textile art from the Middle Eastern region contrast with its bleak background history. They come in bright colours although traditional folk art was shaken to the core when synthetic dyes were invented. From the Bosporus to Samarqand, Middle Eastern folks have succeeded in keeping alive an aura of spiritualization and liveliness in folk art until today.

The exhibition "From Tents and Villages" is dedicated to these rural and nomadic cultural assets. Most of us have known for a long time that they are in urgent need of protection from total decay and ought to be listed as world cultural heritage.

Manfred Bieber