Carpets from Turkmenistan
Within the large family of oriental carpets Turkmen rugs are quite unique but not until recently did they begin to draw the attention of those interested in carpet artistry. These rugs distinguish themselves by their red appearance and repeating geometric patterns. The red colors vary in shades and hues, ranging from yellow-red to brown-red, ruby and purple-red-brown.
Some of these carpets are true masterpieces, although the female artists who created them almost always go unmentioned and unrecognized. Oriental culture is a world that always, and to this day still continues, not to emphasize individuality and artistic identity. This attitude stands in the way of giving proper recognition to these women and the weavings they made.
The Western notion artists must always strive to create new and original material adds to this difficulty. As a result, from point of view of western people, many artists fall back on constant repetition and even copy-making, resulting in less original work. This trend is predominant and strong in the contemporary art scene where traditional approaches to art production do not necessarily receive the recognition they deserve.
However, in fact a small circle of aficionados and enthusiasts must have always been familiar with Turkmen rugs, though it was not until the end of the 19th century that they became known and recognized to a wider European audience. To illustrate this point, the Vienna catalog of the exhibition of 1891 deemed it necessary to address a widespread misperception regarding Bokhara (Turkmen) rugs.(1)
Carl Kaufmann, who wrote about this issue, stated: "This category of (Turkmenian) rugs called Chunaybe (2) in Central Asia, and was erroneously referred to as Bokhara by traders. These rugs are some of the most durable, dense and well-crafted rugs of Central Asia, and have nothing in common with the Bokhara rugs, except for their unique red-brown color, which most resembles the Indian red. However, these fine crafted and thin carpets have become more and more rare, especially since the onset of the mass export to Russia and the rest of Europe. However, the original and long lasting colors did not fare as well as the older and earlier examples. Likewise, the cleanliness of their overall designs suffered." (See figure 1). (3)
This lamentable and incorrect nomenclature (Bokhara), and the decline in quality were already recognized by 1891. Prof. Dr. Ing. Rudolf Neugebauer and others collected oriental carpets all throughout the 1880’s, and among these were some Turkmen rugs, which were shown in his 1909 book. (4)
Further, we should look at this 1908 statement (which, according to records, actually dates back to 1900): "Let it suffice to say that the callous people of Vienna, Berlin, Paris or London, wallowing in luxury, followed the fashion and acquired a taste for the rugs of Central Asia. The European buyers soon turned up in remote market places, far-off towns and villages and even nomad settlements. The natives, blinded by the money, handed over the rugs they owned not always knowing the real value of their possessions. In this manner, all that was valuable, refined and original became an export product, and in many cases the contemporary production according to traditional ways could not be resurrected. Once these rugs are in the hands of such buyers, furniture is placed upon them; they find use in the manufacture of tablecloth and hangings, and perish over time."
This statement was made by none other than General Andrei Andrejewich Bogolyubov, the General governor of Czar Nikolai the Second (1894 until 1917), who governed the Trans-Caspian territory from 1899 until 1901.(5)
He adds that if these precious remains are under any sort of threat at all it is from the influences of Western civilization. To Bogolyubov, the vandalism of today’s life tarnishes and blurs individual beauty. (6)
Obviously, indigenous as well as European traders were already diligent businessmen well before Bogolyubov’s time, buying everything of value the region had to offer. Otherwise the mighty governor of this area would not have issued such a vehement denunciation. He himself had considerable trouble purchasing older and better objects without having to leave his territory, though it is true such objects were generally available only in the West.
Now the question arises: who were and are the Turkmen who crafted these rugs that fascinated the General, astounded collectors and awed aficionados such as Prof. Dr. Ing. Rudolf Neugebauer.
Written by Siawosch Azadi