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Penn Museum Presents Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan

Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan, a traveling exhibition organized by the Textile Museum of Canada, makes its United States debut at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. On view now through through July 31, 2011.

Afghan rug weavers, instead of using their traditional tribal designs, depict on their rugs the world that they see. Modern warfare came to Afghanistan with the Soviet invasion of 1979. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, a decade of civil war was followed by the global war on terrorism. During the more than three decades of international and internal conflict that continue today, the people of Afghanistan have borne witness to the disasters of war by weaving unprecedented images of battle and weaponry into their rugs. Flowers have turned into bullets, landmines, and hand grenades. Birds have turned into helicopters and fighter jets. Sheep and horses have turned into tanks. These are the images on a new and electrifying kind of Oriental rug—the “war rugs” from Afghanistan.

This rug depicts the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack and maps of Afghanistan and Iraq surrounded by tanks, planes, helicopters, and soldiers. Oriental rugs are woven in Iraq only by the Kurds, and there are no Iraqi war rugs. But this rug, from Afghanistan, combines images of the War on Terror from both countries. Made in Afghanistan, 2003-2007, 83 x 63 cm.

The exhibition features more than 60 “war rugs”—most woven since 1980. Some of the rugs are known to be the work of weavers in refugee camps (there are four million Afghan refugees, the largest refugee population in the world), but little is known of the weavers themselves, or even of the sentiment of the rugs.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind’s collective heritage.

Penn Museum is located at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (on Penn’s campus, across from Franklin Field). Public transportation to the Museum is available via SEPTA’s Regional Rail Line at University City Station; the Market-Frankford Subway Line at 34th Street Station; trolley routes 11, 13, 34, and 36; and bus routes 12, 21, 30, 40, and 42. Museum hours are Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and Wednesday, 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, with P.M. @ PENN MUSEUM evening programs offered select Wednesdays. Closed Mondays and holidays. Admission donation is $10 for adults; $7 for senior citizens (65 and above); $6 children (6 to 17) and full-time students with ID; free to Members, PennCard holders, and children 5 and younger; “pay-what-you-want” the last hour before closing.

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