In March, a group of six Los Angeles female artists journeyed to Afghanistan to meet with carpet weavers and learn about the intricacies of their craft. They traveled in armored vehicles to Kabul and to the central town of Bamian, and by the end of their four days there, they had collected a trove of ideas for rug designs.
Their creations, designed by the artists and made by Afghan weavers, go on display on Saturday as part of "The Afghan Carpet Project" at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
The initiative, which was arranged by the nonprofit group AfghanMade and the Christopher Farr rug gallery and facilitated through a special Department of Defense task force, was intended to serve multiple purposes: to breathe life into the dying practice of hand-knotted carpets, provide additional work for the weavers and allow a clutch of Los Angeles artists to fulfill their own goals of creating a beautiful hand-made rug.
"All the artists we chose had something that we thought could translate into a carpet," said Hammer Museum curator Ali Subotnick.
The designs include "Unswept Rug," Lisa Anne Auerbach's tapestry that depicts a smattering of everyday objects across a sandy-colored background, and "Kite Fight," Francesca Gabbiani's compelling reimagining of competitive kite flying, which is virtually a national sport in Afghanistan.
Another artist on the trip, Meg Cranston, who said the project tied in with her background in anthropology, explained that making a carpet had been an ambition for some time. "I had been interested in how colors across cultures are programmed. In the West, colors are defined by forecasters and corporations and magazines, and you see the same ones everywhere."
Her creation, "Afghan Spectrum," features blocks of colors on a muted background and was inspired by a color chart she saw in a preschool in Afghanistan. "It was a subtler and more sophisticated palette," she said. "There were several more neutrals than you would see in an American preschool."
The designs, all 6 by 8 feet, will be produced in a limited-edition run of five pieces. One rug from each designer will go into the museum's collection, every artist gets one of her own and the others will be on sale through Farr's Los Angeles showroom. They are all priced at $9,500, a portion of which is earmarked for Arzu Studio Hope, an organization that helps female weavers in Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is really one of the last places where hand-knot weaving is still a tradition," Farr said. "It's very pure and tribal and soulful. More than that, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go on the ground and see for ourselves how people live there, especially women and children. If we can raise the profile of these artisans and make money for them, this has become a rare opportunity for an artist to go to the frontlines and make a difference."
The Afghan Carpet Project info
Where: Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
When: Ends Sept. 27. Closed Mondays.
Info: (310) 443-7000, hammer.ucla.edu