Carpets as Canvas
10 Oct 2022
Why contemporary art carpets you ask?
Carpets and Rugs! The use of these words brings forth the imagery of a beautiful tradition. I was pursuing my studies as a textile designer, I always wanted to transcend my painting into something more than the frame of my canvas. That is when I came across carpets being used by artists not only in India but globally as a gateway for the free flow of ideas and visualization.
The tradition of contemporary art carpets dates back hundreds and thousands of years when humans used animal furs to protect themselves from cold environments. It is widely held among scholars that carpets originated in the Middle East due to the extreme weather conditions and traveled via traders and invaders to different parts of the world. In earlier times, carpets not only protected man from the harsh environment but also acted as an air purifier, attracting dust and pollution and interlocking it within. Carpet weaving brews an exciting story, narrating the long-lasting legacy.
Rugs and carpets symbolize the beauty of everyday life. However, when it comes to ancient carpet weaving, artisanal carpets show us that it has been used as a form of expression through ages. While carpets are usually made in workshops, artisans also carried portable looms on their backs while traveling, knotting and weaving what they saw in their travels using symbols and colors. Some of the world's most renowned Museums, like the Victoria and Albert Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Austria and Vienna Museum of History of Art have the most extensive collection of these antique rugs and carpets.
There are a lot of products in this world but nothing takes my breath away, quite like a carpet that was lovingly crafted. Although the commercialization of carpets and rugs has made them available in the wider sector of society, handcrafted rugs and carpets are usually referred to as fine art. The artisan carpet makers commit to their craft and make continuous efforts to develop it. The process of handwoven and hand-knotting requires a great deal of patience and skill, it can take up to one to two years to make a handcrafted rug or carpet depending on the size. Carpet weaving is handed down through generations by the master weavers, and it is not only a tradition but also a story being woven. The word carpet and rugs have been used synonymously and interchangeably. Technically carpets stretch from wall to wall and are affixed to the floor, while rugs are smaller and not affixed to the floor and can be rolled up for ease of transportation.
Today, however, we see a shift in carpets being used as a decorative element in houses, not only adorning the floors but also glorifying the walls. The essence of rugs and contemporary art carpets lies in its fabric and threads. The carpet industry was once reserved for the elite, royals and wealthy, but today the market is humming with limited edition carpets along with more economical ones. With time, the importance of the carpet as an aesthetic element of the rooms expanded with growing artistic impression and imagination. Today, contemporary art rugs represent the highest expression of this quality. They are real works of art, which can be placed on the floor but can also be displayed on the walls, just like a painting in a museum, or art gallery, for visual pleasure.
Female artisans of The Jaipur Rugs, © The Jaipur Rug.
Genesis collection of Jaipur Rugs, Genesis, wool and viscose Rug, 2022, © Jaipur Rugs
Someone wise once said that, ‘‘traditions don't vanish, they evolve with time’’. The carpet weaving tradition gives new wings to explore an unexplored realm. Carpets and Rugs are no longer utility based and serve as an aesthetic element. The traditional motifs and techniques achieve a new character and meaning as they come together to occupy a contemporary form. Upcoming artists are looking for entirely new subjects while carrying forward the legacy of older generations. Ideas that have been formed for ages are being changed in moments. In contemporary art carpets, the designers combine surprising lines, geometries and finishes, as well as contrasting colors and patterns. The manufactured articles are unique pieces of enormous charm.
Deepak Bhadwar, The King-Fisher Pashmina, silk and wool Pashmina Carpet, © Deepak Bhadwar.
Based in Delhi, contemporary artist Deepak Badhwar is also working with clusters of weavers to revive the art by using the traditional motifs in a modern and contemporary way pleasing the masses. His innovation and revival of carpets brings the magic of Kashmir alive; Bhadwar quested on producing Pashmina carpets using a single ‘Senneh'[i] knot, the complexity of the knot is such that Bhadwar has been able to produce only four carpets in the past sixteen years. The beauty, effort, and detail that goes into creating a handwoven rug or carpet is nothing less than a work of art.
Maya and Kanya of The Jaipur Rugs, Ladu Gopal, wool and bamboo, 2022, © The Jaipur Rug.
Home furnishing brands are also coming up with contemporary rugs and carpets. The Jaipur Rugs is one such brand working with artisans. Their artisans like Maya and Kanya create their own fusion of styles in an experimental way, putting their stories on a large canvas. Each rug created is one of a kind, and artisans get to mix personal stories and elements of their own culture and surroundings into the weave, sometimes along with their stories from the customers, making it customizable and exclusive. The ‘Ladoo Gopal’ rug from the Manchaha collection is one such example.
Painting is also often taken as a reference by designers creating contemporary art rugs. This mixture of different arts allows one to develop inimitable carpets with a very high value. Modern paintings are also translated to carpets directly and sold in the art world.
Manjit Bawa’s limited edition carpet at StoryLtd, Untitled, Carpet. 2010, © StoryLtd.
Recently rug designers have been manufacturing limited edition woven renditions of paintings[ii] by some of the world's most iconic artists, including works of M.F. Hussain, Manjit Bawa, S.H. Raza among others. used as floor coverings and wall hangings and sold by renowned auction houses, the limited edition signed pieces are not only replicas of the artwork, but also have a handwoven signature and a certificate of authenticity by the artist. The effort put into reproducing art in textile form is not to be understated. The translations of the artworks into carpets instead of other economical and accurate ways of printing also says a lot about the growing market. The carpet and rugs market is growing with the help of private collectors, galleries, fairs and auction houses, having a separate collection of limited edition carpets, as well as other modern and contemporary ones. The carpets, now like paintings, are a form of investment that simultaneously satisfies the view, makes the homely atmosphere more welcoming and can be appreciated every day in the years to come.
We Make Carpets, FireCracker Carpet, firecracker, 2013, © We Make Carpets.
Detail of the Firecracker Carpet
Artists are not only using techniques of carpet weaving to create masterpieces, but some artists are using other non-conventional objects like seashells, band aids, pencils and firecrackers to create “carpet” designs on floors. The work of art comes forth from the pile of ordinary objects, the creation being transient and vulnerable, the patterns are played with until a remarkable design emerges. There is also a sense of parody and pun behind the use of mundane everyday utilitarian objects to create a “carpet” in an installation based set up. These rugs by artists portray the unique experimental and improvisational attitudes and visions.
Dain Angelina, Untitled, silk and wool blend Carpet, © Joseph Carrini.
Traditions are not only carried forward with color and canvas, instead one can see the use of carpet design transforming the finished work into three-dimensional art which has a kinetic quality. The modern contemporary rugs are redefining home decor, suiting and satisfying the aspirations of the art enthusiasts of the day. The use of rugs is making beautiful homes harmonious, bearing artists and weavers' souls. The use of abstract forms and colors by artists adds style and trendiness to a room's decor while keeping the tradition of carpet weaving alive. More than a decorative element for the hall, living room or bedrooms, the rug becomes the centerpiece of the house.
While working on this blog, I have realized that there is no one definition of a carpet, as the process of making has a lot of layers and it is also based on the artist's individual perception. In today’s world carpets are being used in various ways, giving us more options aesthetically. The carpet or rug, be it a modern or traditional, makes a part of the house without losing its exclusivity. Reserved once for the colder regions to provide protection is now being used worldwide for its aesthetic properties. The use of carpets as a medium to emulate the master's painting, the revival of old traditions in a contemporary way, installation based experimental “carpets” -all the aspects I have discussed are a way of showing how the word carpet or rug can have diversified meanings.
[i]Senneh Knots- The Senneh knot is also known as the Persian knot or Farsi Baff. It is an asymmetrical knot.
[ii]‘Fly Your Own Carpet to Your Walls’ — a first of its kind charity exhibition of limited edition hand-woven carpets. The carpets have been created by Sunil Sethi Design Alliance to raise funds for Maneka Gandhi’s People for Animals (PFA) initiative.
Manya pursued her bachelor’s in Textile Design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology Kolkata. She is interested in merging her passion for art with her studies in textile. Manya likes working with research. Her research interest lies in art history and she incorporates her learnings in her writing.
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