Monthly Archives: November 2012

Caucasian Carpets: Realities on the Ground

Urartian elements

It has been a busy week in Armenia, and after having seen too many medieval monasteries and khachkars and carpets, and met with so many artisans and manufacturers and traders, I am exhausted and ready to go home. But I must not forget my primary mission here in the Caucasus: I came for the carpets. So an overall assessment of the state of the Caucasian rug, both old and new, is in order.

The musings that I have summarised below are based on empirical research, if we can call it that—what I have seen and experienced at several carpet factories and workshops, as well as many carpet showrooms and dealers.

An Art Revived: New Carpet Production

In both Armenia and Azerbaijan there are just a few carpet manufacturers who produce quality rugs using traditional hand-knotting techniques in significant (i.e., export-friendly) quantities. This is reassuring, because we all know and agree, …

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Christmas Decorations Galore!

Magenta Floral Snowflake

Last year it was a pleasure working on our Christmas decorations, and we had a great reaction from customers, so this year we have expanded and have been collaborating on designs with a couple more NGOs and our official “Christmas Decoration Designer” Kavita. Most of our decorations have now arrived, are up on our tree in Nandi Durga Road, and we will be showing them off at the OWC Christmas Bazaar in Bangalore this Saturday.

One of the new NGOs we have been working with is ASHA (Academy for Severe Handicaps and Autism). ASHA works to help autistic children become independent in taking care of themselves and to make use of their time productively. One of the ways they do this is through vocational activities, and in our case the children have created and painted beautiful papier mâché decorations. We look forward to supporting ASHA in the future and helping the children develop …

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In Love with Khachkars

Khachkar main

I’ve been in Armenia for just a few days, but already I am in love with khachkars. These elaborate stone crosses – both ancient and modern ones – are found all over Armenia. Next to the ever-present pomegranate, which appears in everything from cheap key chains to medieval friezes, the winged Armenian cross is perhaps the most ubiquitous and cherished symbol of this nation so rich in historical and religious symbolism. Its most characteristic manifestation is the khachkar – a large, monolithic stone sculpture that often decorates the interior or exterior of a monastery, marks a grave site, watches over a country road, or adorns a public square.

That a cross should serve as the primary signifier of Armenian culture is not surprising. Christianity is at the very core of Armenian national identity. In 301, King Tiridates III, who had previously persecuted Christians and imprisoned St Gregory the Illuminator for twelve years, finally …

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Architectural Wonders in Baku, Copper in Lahij, Caravanserai in Sheki

Caravanserai 19th-century engraving

Baku is a metropolis that I can only describe as grand. Its buildings are grand, and its ambitions are even grander. A meticulously restored medieval citadel – a warren of quiet cobbled alleyways enclosed by stone walls – is surrounded by a stunning urban landscape of impressive neo-classical buildings, wide boulevards and a multitude of fountains, all dating from the end of the 19th century, when Baku experienced its first oil boom. Here too, every brick and cornice has been painstakingly restored to its full splendour. And beyond and above all this neo-classical elegance rise awesome and highly futuristic new structures of steel and glass – the fruits of the current oil boom.

Some of them, such as the Flame Towers and the Crystal Hall, are at the very cutting edge of contemporary architecture, rivalling the ultramodern hyperboles of Dubai and Shanghai. (Check out this enlightening list of the noteworthy architecture that is changing Baku’s …

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A Day in Quba

Fatima and Aygun

Heading north from Baku, the grey, monotonous flatness of the Caspian coast eventually gives way to a more verdant terrain, tree-lined roads, and plenty of apple orchards, apples being Quba’s other claim to fame. Beyond Quba are forested valleys and the snow-capped peaks of the Greater Caucasus. The town itself is low and flat and muddy in winter and decidedly underwhelming. The most ubiquitous sight here looks like this: two old Soviet-era Lada 7‘s driven at manic speed swerve dangerously to avoid each other at an intersection. They come to a screeching halt in the middle, blocking what little other traffic there is. Windows are unrolled and an altercation seems about to explode when the two drivers recognize each other as acquaintances, and whatever acerbic language was about to form on their lips melts away into inquiries about the family. Small town life in a nutshell.

Quba was for long …

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Caucasus Reconnaissance

Pomegranate seller in Quba

Remember me? Several months ago I wrote a short primer on carpet motifs on this blog. I was a complete novice in all matters woven back then, and the blog entry was as much an attempt to educate myself as it was a presentation on the topic. I did it because my old friend Nisha – never a stranger to pressing friends, family and sundry strangers into unpaid servitude – realised that I was living in Turkey and at a loose end, and quickly seized on the opportunity.

You’re in Turkey, she said, so inform yourself about carpet designs. Later she said, casually, you should find out more about Caucasian rugs in particular, because they are striking and unusual, and I want to add more of them to Arastan’s portfolio. And then, quite brazenly, the Caucasus is so much closer for you than for me, why don’t you do a short reconnaissance trip …

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Banarasi Brocade, Mirzapur Carpets, Fantastic Samosas and some Soul-searching (Part II)

Revival of Old Saree Pattern

I like Banaras. Busy streets that are impossible to cross with beautiful old architecture mixed with 1960s utilitarian buildings and bustling. This is an ancient trading and tourist driven city and so has the good and bad that comes with it. I visited the by-lanes of the town and several surrounding villages that have clusters of weavers of the beautiful brocade you get in Banaras. Conservative heartland so loose fitted churidar kurta with dupatta recommended. The by-lanes were incredibly interesting and I so wanted to pick up some of the ancient bricks lying in broken structures but had to behave myself! Unfortunately many of the families have moved away from traditional hand looms to running the more lucrative power looms and the whole area reverberates with the noise.

One national award winning family in particular who work on revival of old patterns with Taj Khazana had the most beautiful hand-woven saree in the …

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