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Undiscovered minimalism: Decoding woven tribal art

Located between the Caspian Sea and the Alborz Mountains, the Mazandaran area bore undiscovered treasures of Persia until in the mid-1990s, an Oriental carpet dealer by the name of Werner Weber fell upon the powerfully expressive kilims (handwoven rugs), possessing a beauty unlike any other known to the trade. Athr Gallery in association with Iwan Maktabi has brought the rare opportunity to the public with these museum-worthy kilims on display for viewing until Dec. 6.
“In this exhibition, we want the visitor to not only tune into the secret language of tribal woven art, but also to think outside the domain of ethnography, in an attempt to capture the underlying elements that connect ‘Textile Art’ to simply ‘Art’, said Mohammad A. Maktabi. The antique carpets, expected to be spanning three generations and over a hundred years, incidentally evoke a resemblance to modern architecture and art with their warm colors and abstract expressions, while borrowing a deep and obvious inspiration from the natural landscape of Mazandaran.
Athr gallery, which operates as a hub for artistic visual expression, decided to bring the exhibition not only as a way to provide the opportunity for appreciating a different art medium, but also as a means for art education. Maya El Khalil, manager at Athr Gallery, said: “You can’t just confine art to certain mediums. It’s not only about paintings or about just photography, or installations. Art is such a wide concept.”
The Kilims’ ability to be representative of a unique art form by positioning its similarities in modern day artworks of Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, and Barnett Newman, as expressed by art expert Heinz Meyer, is also one of the reasons that the woven rugs might appeal to the sensibilities of the contemporary art clique.
“They were so avant-garde in the time they were reproduced that we thought they were definitely worth showing,” El Khalil said.
While the central palette derives its coloration in hues of brown, red and beige — shades indigenous to the agriculturally rich land of Mazandaran—– some of the pieces weave together a picture of contemporary styles and visual textures with a clean aesthetic defined by its spontaneity, clarity and simplicity, laboriously hand-woven by tribal Persian women to be passed as heirloom.
“These kilims were given as a dowry when they (Mazandarans) got married. It was one of the most important possessions they had,” informs El Khalil. “Because they were given as dowry and the villagers from the area were not very wealthy, the best was produced from vegetable dyes which we know are quite expensive today.”
Undiscovered Minimalism is an exhibition worth attending to experience and discover the sense of antiquity, beauty and labor of love.
Exhibited kilims are for sale between an estimated SR 150,000 and SR 300,000.
Location: 5th floor Business Center, wing B, Serafi Mall, Tahliah Street, Jeddah.
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