Among the antique rugs and carpets produced by tribal or nomadic peoples across Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Persia, kilims are among the least well known, although they are often the most culturally authentic pieces. Unlike pile carpets, antique Kilims were never made for export and were never designed with any concessions to western taste or usage. In technical terms, Kilims are woven with an emphasis on the horizontal ‘wefts,’ which are compressed to cover entirely the vertical or ‘warp’ threads. On kilims it is these variously colored wefts that are arranged to produce the ‘weft faced’ design. The weavers who produced Kilims rarely had access to wide looms. Consequently, truly authentic Kilims are seldom more than a few feet wide, and often less, although they may be quite long. Larger kilims were made by sewing two or more of these narrow Kilims together to produce wider, rectangular textiles that could then be used as rugs and coverlets or blankets, often known as ‘Sofreh.’
The most well known Kilims are those of Anatolia or Turkey, although textiles of this kind were produced by most rug-weaving peoples across the Middle East. This extraordinary piece comes from the Mazandaran region of Persia along the Caspian Sea. Kilims of this region are especially rare in the west, having been made entirely for local tribal use. In this case the tribal or nomadic technique of joining several smaller Kilims together to make a larger one has resulted in a dazzlingly modern effect. The design consists only of horizontal stripes in dark and light shades of aubergine alternating with ivory. There is no set pattern to this alternation. Rather it unfolds in natural, spontaneous rhythms, while additional thin stripes with crenellated detail are introduced at will to enliven and vary the design.
Because of the spontaneous, irregular approach of the weaver to the color alternation and the proportion of the stripes, none of the component sections lines up with the design of the others, and therein lies its charm. These discontinuities create a dynamic, pulsating effect reminiscent of late sixties Op-Art, or the brilliantly abrupt geometry of modernist masters like Mondrian or Johns. What can only be appreciated in person is the tactile effect of the weaving itself - the texture of the weft tapestry and its crenellated detail, as well as the spiraling sculpture of the wool stitching patterns that unite the various vertical panels. Whether one enjoys this Kilim as a rug or as an abstract tapestry suspended on a wall, it is a masterpiece, one that reminds us how readily the traditions of tribal design may converge with a sophisticated modernist sensibility.