Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Desert Kokeshi 12 砂漠のこけし12

Our destination: Kashmir Handicrafts Emporium!
As mentioned in the previous blog, I had the chance to join a group for a visit to a rug shop in Doha, and of course the Togatta kokeshi was along for the ride. As it turned out this trip was a lot like a kokeshi adventure, but with rugs instead of kokeshis.

I have to admit that while I am a true kokeshi enthusiast, I appreciate hand-made objects of all kinds, especially Persian carpets. In my opinion Persian carpets are one of the world's great art forms, and since Qatar is very close to Iran one would expect to see them for sale. Indeed, that is the case, and when driving around the city one sees many large carpet stores with picture windows and beautiful interiors showing off their wares. Naturally that was the kind of shop I was expecting to see on this trip.

We soon arrived at Kashmir Handicrafts Emporium on Al Mergab Street after our delicious dinner at the Kabab King, and it was just a small two-story building in a strip mall next to a cell-phone dealer. Hmmm. Much different that those big, expensive-looking carpet shops I saw along the way. Moreover, the first floor was just Kashimiri handicrafts, many of which were very interesting, but where were the carpets? The leader of our group had been to the shop before and introduced us to Mr. Wajji Khan, a native of the Kashmir part of India. As it turned out Mr. Khan was going to be our guide that night through the world of not just Persian carpets, but also of the tribal carpet tradition of central Asia of which I knew nothing about but was eager to learn. After introductions we headed up a steep flight stairs and onto the second floor, and all I could say was "wow."

From the center of the carpet room looking back toward the stairs. 
The entire second floor was the carpet room, which was windowless and completely empty in the center. Along the walls were hundreds of carpets of all shapes and sizes, rolled up perfectly like giant colorful cigars. I could tell already that this was going to be very interesting.
Mr. Khan explaining to us about two magnificent tribal carpets from Afghanistan.
Mr. Khan is a good salesman, with a style completely different from what one would expect in the US or Japan. Before getting into selling carpets his goal was to educate us about handmade rugs in general (knot count, warp and weft, dyes), about the tribes and tribal rug tradition of Afghanistan where most of his carpets come from, and also about the Persian silk carpet tradition that, besides Iran, also developed in Kashmir during the Mughal Empire period in India. It was a very hands-on lecture that went on for about two hours, during which time we all learned a lot.
An upper shelf filled with tribals. A good spot for a kokeshi too.
A variety of tribals in different sizes.
The kokeshi is laying on the lower right corner of a carpet made by the Baloch tribe. You can see pieces of two other carpets in the upper and lower right.  
I have to say that before going into the shop I didn't think too much about tribal carpets, and in fact I was really hoping just to see the silk Persians that I knew would also be available. To me tribal rugs always looked overly geometric and simplistic, especially compared to their Persian sisters. However, Mr. Khan did a great job of dispelling my prejudices, for not only did I get to see the tremendous variety in the central Asian tradition, but I learned how they are made, how the wool is dyed from natural sources native to Afghanistan, how it's 99% a women's craft, and how these carpets are not made to be sold. Rather, they're a kind of furnishing in the nomadic peoples' tents and dwellings, rolled and unrolled when the occasion demands it, and only traded when necessary. Moreover, once the eye is trained one can discern the meaning of the motifs, and recognize styles, patterns and color that give away the carpet's origin. Overall, this was a real learning experience that I won't soon forget.

Ah, a beautiful silk Persian carpet handmade by Mr. Khan's family in Kashmir. This and the other silk carpets were stunning.
I still wanted to see the Persian carpets made by Mr. Khan's family in Kashmir, and I was not disappointed. All of them were magnificent, and some of them had knot counts of over 1,000 per square inch. The tribals, as I recall, were all in the 200-300 knots per square inch range, so simply imagine an old TV versus a new HDTV or a Retina display and dots per inch (dpi) -- quadrupling or quintupling the number of knots means a tremendous increase in the carpet's resolution and complexity.
Here's a nice Persian garden motif carpet. That puce you see is a natural dye made from tea.
Towards the end of the evening. You can see that the floor is now covered with silk Persian carpets, unfurled for us to inspect and walk on in our bare feet.
After our carpet lesson I decided not to purchase anything since I was too overwhelmed by the amazing variety I had seen. But now that I've had a few days to think about them and review my pictures I might have to go back one of these days and take another look. If so, the kokeshi will be coming along too.
At the end of our tour Mr. Khan posed with the kokeshi while standing on a bunch of silk Persian carpets. He noticed me taking pictures of the Togatta with the rugs throughout the evening and was curious what it might be. I explained a bit about the kokeshi tradition, so now someone in Qatar has that knowledge.
If you would like to learn more about this shop and the tribal and Persian carpets Mr. Khan and his cousin sell, here's a link to the web site: http://www.the-rugman.com/index.html. Of course the next time you're in Qatar, by all means stop by and see the rugs for yourself. And don't forget to bring a kokeshi as it would be quite welcome.
سلام 

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