Posted by R. John Howe on 09-24-2002 06:18 PM:

Frank But Not Preoccupied

Dear folks -

In another thread I have pointed to one instance I knew of in which the sexual and reproductive imagery in a Turkmen weaving was very explicit.

Not to argue against Fred's thesis here, but I have today been looking through lots of rug books trying to find images that may be instances of sexual and/or reproductive reference. And I have found some that I will gradually put up. But the general impression this review has left with me is that, while rug weavers sometimes seem frank about sex and reproduction in a matter of fact way, they are also not preoccupied with these themes.

Nearly all of the animal, bird and human images I have encountered today in my rug books are NOT what the doll manufacturers call "anatomically correct."

Clothing rather than sexual organs is usually used to distinguish the sexes in human figures and the sex of the animals depicted is usually not indicated at all.

Even in Tanavoli's little catalog on "Lion Rugs From Fars," where the size of the lion images would readily permit at least a hint of the sexual organs, the sex of the lions is, in almost all of the cases where it is indicated at all, denoted by a mane rather than by the suggestion of a penis.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 09-24-2002 09:58 PM:

Hi John,

While it seems to be true that explicit depiction of the genitals is the exception rather than the rule, it does go back a long way. Here's one of the horses on the border of the Pazyryk rug.

All the other horses on the border appear to be stallions, too.


Steve Price

Posted by RMorris on 09-25-2002 09:04 AM:

hi all,

Given that at least in the language of their textiles things are usually abstracted and symbolic, doesn't it make sense that references to procreation etc. are going to be broken down into the same symbolic language or codification rather than graphic depiction?

To me this would make the presence of these references no less frequent but not necessarily so obviously discernible. It might be that these few depictions we are seeing are exceptions or even the tip of a more symbolic iceberg. The fact is that in many worldwide tribal cultures there is a symbolic female language taking place just as commonly as one where the components are laid out obviously. It occurs in Navajo rugs, Southeast Asian jewelry, plains Indian parfleche etc etc .

It seems discussions of textiles here bog down when it comes to the old axe of the Goddess symbolisms but perhaps there is a more mundane (everyday) language going on. There are certainly enough sustainable proofs of women's amuletic language in other tribal cultures.

Randall Morris

Posted by Vincent Keers on 09-25-2002 11:06 AM:


Hi John,

Our garden lion "Rudolph" doesn't show his penis.
When he's acting masculine, he turns his bud? at me and shows me his balls, looking back over his shoulder "You got'a problem?"

And because the testicles aren't very far from the penis, the penis is hidden between the legs.

Don't think I've ever seen a lion exposed from the back in any textile.

Best regards,

Posted by Fred Mushkat on 09-26-2002 04:13 AM:

Hi John,

I don't believe that the weavers of these bands and the other textiles posted on the discussion boards in any way suggests a sexual preoccupation. These were people who lived simply, and were not as restricted by social taboos as much as their settled counterparts. Sex and reproduction were facts of daily life, and took place with much less privacy than most westerners tolerate. It is appropriate for a young woman weaving her dowry rugs, bags and bands to place these reminders of the reproductive aspects of life on her most important work.



Posted by R. John Howe on 09-26-2002 05:51 AM:

Fred -

Yes, that is my take too.

Someone said in an earlier salon that they wondered about the lack of privacy that must have obtained amongst tent dwellers.

I agreed saying that most conception must have occurred within the hearing of others, especially since tents often had parents and married children living together.

And as we have noted already, as animal breeders, sexual activity in animals would have been constantly in sight. This would likely result in the matter of fact frankness that we see in the rug images.

I just started this thread because of my experience when I started looking for sexual and reproductive images. I did not hear any hint of a suggestion of preoccupation in your initial essay.

Matter of fact, seems exactly right.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 09-26-2002 06:27 AM:

Hi People,

I would add to what Fred and John have said by pointing out that the depiction of genitals and the depiction of reproductive or other sexual activity are related, but not the same thing.

Depicting the genitals or other indications of gender is not unusual in many cultures, showing sexual activity occurs in relatively few.


Steve Price