TurkoTek Discussion Boards

Subject  :  The epistemological issues
Author  :  Steve Price
Date  :  09-13-2000 on 08:43 a.m.
sprice@hsc.vcu.edu Dear Friends, In another thread, John Howe raised basic questions about the evidence underlying some of the assertions from which the discussion proceeds. I think this is, and always ought to be, a central issue in any discussion. One question he asked is whether the sources of information about the emphasis being on the important elements in African art are the tribespeople or the academic authorities. In Rugdom, there is almost no overlap at all between the membership of those two groups. In African art (and, I suspect, in Australian aboriginal and native American arts as well), many of the authorities are, themselves, tribespeople. In the case of African art, one of my sources of the notion of emphasis on important elements is Babatunde Lawal. He is one of the half dozen or so leading authorities on Yoruba art, was curator at the Nigerian national museum in Lagos, and is now on the faculty at my university. He is also a Yoruba, so his academic training melds into his cultural background fairly seamlessly. I don't suspect that he is infallible, but I do think he's a pretty credible source of information. Furthermore, the notion of physical emphasis on the important in African sculpture seems to be one on which the authorities agree. For instance, a lead article in the current issue of African Art deals with the treatment of the head in Baule sculpture, essentially in these terms. Suppose the assertion about African art is true. Is it also true of tribal rugs? What evidence do we have that bears on this question? My academic default position is that what we know can be generalized until proven otherwise. I carry this intellectual baggage into other things I think about, like tribal arts. Thus, being reasonably convince that some artistic convention exists in African art, I suspect that it also exists in other tribal arts. I don't know that anyone has recorded a Belouch person saying that their depiction of, say, birds, emphasizes the things that are important about those birds, or that anyone ever asked (or cared!). So the bottom line is, this is a matter for exploration, not a matter of fact. Can we find any evidence for it? If there is any, my guess is that the best chances of finding it are by looking at the most idiosyncratic representations of things that we might expect to be culturally important icons. I think birds are likely to be such icons for reasons that I offered in the Salon essay, and the three versions that I used to open the discussion are about as idiosyncratic as they get. Steve Price

Subject  :  RE:The epistemological issues
Author  :  FilibertoBoncompagni
Date  :  09-15-2000 on 10:30 a.m.
filibert@go.com.jo Dear Steve, I wish one day I could open a Turkotek discussion board an find a posting starting with ... "Hi, I am a Baluchi (Turkoman, Kurdish etc.) weaver..." But this is unlikely to happen, except maybe on the 1st of April. So, given the fact we cannot ask to a Baluchi what the hell is this squarish thing we see on many of their rugs and being the sources on the subject extremely vague, to find an answer we have to observe the materials we have. I agree with John Howe that for us westerners is very difficult to understand a tribal culture, but the subjects of discussion hosted in these Salons are quite harmless, anyway - even if sometimes they warm up a little. Now, forgive me if I repeat some ideas I already posted in another thread. My opinion about the extreme stylization of the "bird", having read the last addition in Marla Mallett' s web site "Tracking the Archetype" was: "Perhaps it is a kind of design born on a warp-patterned weave, a restrictive technique for the design. According to Marla, some of the world's oldest surviving textiles are warp-faced bands. When the depiction migrated to a more free medium, it simply retained the same style - the rooster seems to be an important symbol for the Baluchi and the tribal culture is strongly conservative, no need to change it." Your answer was: While I believe that her (Marla Mallett's) view is fundamentally correct, I have some problems with applying it to this particular motif. Here are my reasons: 1. It is unique to the Belouch, and probably only to one Belouch subgroup. Structure-driven motifs ought to be ubiquitous, like "latchhooks", "hooked polygons", and various star-like devices. 2. I've never seen anything similar to a Belouch bird on a flatweave. So hypothesizing that it originated in pile work by being copied from flatweaves requires the additional hypothesis that it was preserved in the pile form but became extinct in the (rather substantial) corpus of Belouch flatweaves. Right so. I had a look at James Opie's "Tribal Rugs" and I found some interesting pictures. While I could not find (in this book nor in other publications) any example of this bird on Baluchi flatweaves, I found some other tribal FLATWEAVES with very similar depictions. A digital camera (used free-hand) is not the best tool for copying images from a book, so you will excuse me for the poor quality of the pictures. This is a detail of a Shahsavan flatweave (pg. 249 and 257), nineteenth century. You can see a variety of bipeds and quadrupeds, some with horns, some with crests. The bigger ones (with the S in the tail - S for Shahsavan, of course) are very similar to our Baluch cock. Birds are depicted with two legs, mammals with four - but the animals are very similar to each other after all. On pg. 255 there is another flatweave (horse cover, twentieth century) with the same animals. On pg. 181 there is another horse cover, this time a Quasqa'i. See the first row of animals from the bottom? Same cock, same S in the tail. On page 42 Opie speaks about possible introduction of the peacock symbol from eastern culture in the weaving tradition of Caucasus, Kurdistan and Persia, showing a Quashqa'I horse cover. I found on one of my books "Dictionnaire des Symboles" that the peacock was an important symbol for the Sufis and for Islam in general. My humble conclusion: The Baluch cock is possibly a peacock (as others - like Mark - already suggested). The EMPHASIS in ALL the tribal weaving shown above (and in the Baluch bird as well) is on the tail, the crest and some decoration on the body. It makes sense, if you try to "communicate" the rich colorful beauty of the peacock but you are constrained by a restrictive technique. Yes, SOME Baluch birds are a little more stylized: the tail is represented only with vertical lines and some of them (but not all) represent the feet with 3 spears - but I do not think that these differences make them unique to the Baluchi, they are just variations. To state it more bluntly, it seems to me that this "bird" IS NOT unique to the Baluchi, and (again) his style is due to his origin in a flatweave medium. But I don't have an explanation about why the "bird" does not appear on Baluch flatweaves, nor I have a convincing one about why they continued to depict the bird in this stylized manner on knotted-pile rugs. The only explanation I can find is in the traditional respect for this archetypal symbol. Anyway, other tribes do the same - they fill their knotted piled rugs with “flatweave- style” animals. Hope the “Bug” will spare this thread and the rest of the Discussion Boards. Regards, Filiberto Boncompagni

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