Myth and Design, as presented by Thomas Cole at Arastan

As it was once said, “We are who we were…” And it is this truism that Tom Cole, internationally acclaimed Central Asian carpet and textile expert, brought to life vividly and evocatively in the talk he gave for Arastan last Wednesday.

Turkmen Bag Detail

Turkmen Bag Detail

Gonor Temple Complex

Gonor Temple Complex

Tom talked with great depth and knowledge not just about the crafts but the historical, cultural and symbolic linkages that accompany them. As one who specialises in tribal weavings and textiles of artistic, historical and ethnographic significance from Central Asia, Tom is the position to do so very authoritatively. As he put it to an interested and involved audience, his presentation on ‘Myth and Design’ endeavoured to identify pervasive myths and symbolism at the core of our very existence as human beings – as illustrated in patterns and symbols spanning the breadth of the Asian continent.

Scorpion Bronze Seal

Scorpion Bronze Seal

Scorpion Boteh

Scorpion Boteh

Supported by interesting and relevant visuals, Tom talked about certain images and icons that have been intrinsic to rugs and textiles that have emanated from the long journey along the legendary Silk Route… from East to West. He touched upon the bronze age origins of some of these designs; Tibetan rug designs inspired by stupas; the floral patterns in Mughal rugs; the Boteh or mango shaped (popularly referred to as the paisley in the West) designs that can be found in profusion from China in the Far East to Persia and Turkey in the West.

A wide variety of fertility symbols are a common motif along the Silk Route – ranging from flowering pots of pomegranates to the kotchanak (a fertility symbol of Scythian origin) representing a Goddess with child to Uzbek silk Ikat panels with Goddess imagery. In fact the Goddess imagery, as exemplified by the fecund female form, can be traced back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods.

Kotchanak Turkmen Dowry Weaving

Kotchanak Dowry Weaving

Kotchanak Gold Plaque

Kotchanak Gold Plaque

The other motifs that are found in profusion from these regions are graphic and abstract depictions of the tree of life, various iterations of the swastika, animals, birds and fantastic beasts such as the dragon, phoenix and the griffin. These have all found stylised and emotive expressions in rugs and textiles from along the Silk Route.

The presentation was enlivened by an audience who not only listened but also took an active part by asking interesting and probing questions. The display of beautiful and authentic carpets did much to bring home the truth and significance of the myths that underlay these wonderful designs which have come down to us through millennia.

Thanks Tom for a wonderful evening!

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