Barbara Koenen - War Rugs

These are re-creations of Afghan War Rugs, made from loose spices, in the spirit of Tibetan buddhist mandalas.

Link to More War Rugs, and War Rug Prints  and see the new Silk Road and Outlaw A / NOVA War Rugs on flickr

In 2001, when the US invaded Afghanistan, I began recreating Afghani war rugs in public performances.

Afghani war rugs first appeared twenty-five years ago, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the traditional weavers, primarily women, began to incorporate images of weapons into their traditional floral, animal and geometric patterns. Subtle at first, the military iconography eventually dominated the textiles, erasing all but the most incidental remnants of centuries of previous motifs.

I was moved by the tragic nature of this cultural and aesthetic phenomenon, and wanted to feel what it was like to create something so brutal.  Adopting the practice of the Tibetan Buddhist monks who make elaborate sand mandalas that they then destroy, I constructed war rugs like mandalas made from loose spices and seeds.  Taking up to 6 days to complete, the colorful and fragrant installations exist only temporarily.  Once complete with fringe and popper firecrackers attached, they are tread upon, but the footsteps only reveal their impermanence.

The first war rugs I swept up into jars at the end of each exhibition. Now I record the pieces as “monoprints,” fixing the remaining spices to cloth with clear medium. The prints retain much of the color and aroma of the rugs, as well as the pattern of footprints and other incidents that the installation endured.


Creating a spice war rug at the Museum of Contemporary Art, November 2007.

I made my 7th spice war rug, Baluchi Drixa, for the Mapping the Self exhibition at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.  It was on display until March, 2008, when I made some prints and swept it up.  Not too worse for wear, there were only a few footprints and little messes in the pattern.  I'll have photos of the prints soon.

Afghan War Rug No 35, Paratroop Version (SOLD)   2004

This "rug" was an installation that I made for Art Chicago in 2004, at Navy Pier.  It is made out of paprika, poppy seed, tumeric, ginger, fennel, coffee, flour, red and black pepper,mace, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.


I placed the spices carefully on a mat, without any glue.  It took about 5 days to finish it. Once the pattern is filled, I complete it with cotton fringe, that has popper firecrackers attached.


<The artwork looks so real, 
people walk on it!  

If you step on the fringe..."POP"!