End of an art form? Persian rug industry struggles to survive

End of an art form? Persian rug industry struggles to survive ...
thehindu.com 28/05/2016 Arts

Keywords:#Bakhtiari, #China, #Chinese, #Eucalyptus, #Fars, #Hamid_Zollanvari, #India, #Iran, #Iranian, #New_York, #New_York_Times, #News, #People, #Persian, #Qajar, #Shiraz, #Thehindu.com, #Times, #United_States, #Western

Availability of cheaper replicas makes it hard for weavers
For centuries, Iran’s famed carpets have been produced by hand along the nomad trail in this region of high plains around the ancient city of Shiraz.
COMPLEX WORK:Iran’s carpets are among the most labour-intensive handicrafts in the world.— File photo

* * * Sheep grazed in high mountain pastures and shorn only once a year produce a thick, long wool ideal for the tough thread used in carpet-making.
But high-quality production of hand-woven carpets is no longer sustainable on the migration route of the nomads, said Hamid Zollanvari, one of Iran’s biggest carpet makers and dealers.
Instead, he had built a factory with 16 huge cooking pots, where on a recent cool, sunny spring day men in blue overalls stirred the pots with long wooden sticks, boiling and colouring the thread. As the coloured waters bubbled, they looked like live volcanoes. The air smelled of sheep.
Another room was stacked with herbs. Eucalyptus leaves, indigo, black curd, turmeric, acorn shells and alum, ingredients for the different colours.
No machinery involved
“The Iranian carpet is 100 per cent organic,” Mr. Zollanvari declared. “No machinery is involved.”
Now even the factory is threatened. With six years of Western sanctions on the carpet business and punishing competition from rugs machine-made in China and India, these are hard times for the craft of Persian rug-making. Over the centuries, invaders, politicians and Iran’s enemies have left their mark on Iran’s carpets, said professor Hashem Sedghamiz, a local authority on carpets, sitting in the green courtyard of his restored Qajar-dynasty house in Shiraz. The outsiders demanded changes, started using chemicals for colouring and, most recently, imposed sanctions on the rugs. Those were blows, he said, damaging but not destructive.
But now, Mr. Sedghamiz said, the end is near. Ultimately, he said, it is modernity — that all-devouring force that is changing societies at breakneck speed — that is killing the Persian carpet, Iran’s pride and joy. “People simply are no longer interested in quality.” Or in paying for it, he might have added. This year, after the nuclear deal was completed, the United States lifted six years of sanctions on carpets. But even with that, the Persian carpet is in a critical state as fewer and fewer people buy them.
“These days, everyone is seeking quick satisfaction and simplicity, but our carpets are the complete opposite of that,” Mr. Sedghamiz said.
It is on the endless green slopes of Fars province, in Iran’s heartland, that the “mother of all carpets,” among the first in the world, is produced: the hand-woven nomadic Persian rug.
The process starts with around 1.6 million sheep grazed by shepherds from the nomadic Qashqai and Bakhtiari tribes, who produce that tough, long-fibered wool so perfect for carpets.
Women’s expertise
Women take over from there, making thread from the wool by hand, twisting it with their fingers. The finished thread is bundled and then dyed, using natural ingredients like pomegranate peels for deep red or wine leaves for green. After days of boiling on a wooden fire, the threads are dried by the cool winds that blow in from the north each afternoon.
Weavers, almost all of them women, spend several months to a year bent over a horizontally placed loom, stringing and knotting thousands of threads. When the carpet is finally done, it is cut, washed and put out in the sun to dry.
“It’s so time-consuming, real hand work,” said Mr. Zollanvari, the carpet dealer. “A labour of love. And what does it cost?” he asked, before answering the question himself: “Almost nothing.” A 6-by-9-foot hand-woven carpet costs around $400 (Rs. 26,800) in Shiraz, depending on the pattern and quality.
Persian carpets have fallen out of favour even in Iran, with many middle-class Iranians preferring cheap plastic laminate floor covers. Those who still like carpets often go for cheaper Chinese and Indian replicas. — New York Times News Service
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