Kilim, which is Turkish for a flat weave and pile less rug, is part of the tribal weaving culture across Central Asia. From northeast Persia’s delicate Kurdish kilims to bold earth-coloured and striped Baluch rugs, from Anatolian ‘art’ kilims to Afghanistan’s carpet-like ones… kilims are a reflection of the ‘form, decoration and function’ of the pastoral and nomadic lives of the people who weave them.
Originally made out sheep’s wool and the skin of camels, goats and horses and dyed in natural colours, the motifs are specific to the regions from where they are woven, unfolding rich, textured histories of the bribes. In a sense, the kilim was and continues to be a measure of the weaver’s culture and wealth, being part of his roots, home and saddle decoration and bride price.
What a wonderfully textured story each kilim tells! Stylised birds, animals, flowers, a ram’s horns and tree of life… the themes are spelt out in in vivid jewel colours or earthy orange, beige, rust, browns, reds, green and yellow.
The restoration of a kilim is part of the craft culture of Kashmir and this specialised skill is handed down from father to son. Kilims are traditionally collected by Kashmiri artisans and collectors as prayer rugs and for floor and wall decoration. Sami Meer is one such collector. Says Meer, “The repair work is done on a two-sided loom. We take the damaged portion of the kilim and put the ‘tana’ on it by hand, and that becomes the base. Then we use ‘ari’ hook to make the knots as per the design. We actually use carpet making techniques for the restoration work. When the pile begins to emerge, we trim it.” The kilim repairing skill, according to Sami, is fast disappearing since the youngsters finds the work too tedious.
Meer holds up an exquisite old Persian kilim, a symphony in shades of brown with geometric patterning. “The border on one side had completely disintegrated” says Sami. “I have replicated and repaired it. This piece is priceless.”
He has many more such pieces exhibited at his ‘Kilim and Rugs’ exhibition. Compelling striped Afghan ones, a Baluch Afghan in geometric motifs, a bright red and black Baluch rug blade cut kilims from Shiraz and a treasure of Turkish kilims. They come in sizes spanning 6 ft by 9 ft to small prayer rugs, corridor kilims, rectangular wall hangings and saddle bags.
The exhibition also has Persian, Nain and Bokhara Qum originals, both antique and new, as well a collection of Kashmiri wool and silk carpets. A sensational wool carpet woven by the inmates in Barmer Jail, restored to its mellowed original beauty by Sami Meer, is a highlight.
The ‘Kilims and Rugs’ exhibition is on view at Alisons, Door No. 123/124, Ispahani Centre, Nungambakkam High Road, till 31May.