Striking geometric shapes reminiscent of 20th century abstract art are not what you would expect to see adorning a handmade Iranian rug. But changing tastes and increased competition from Asia have forced some professionals to rethink and resize a tradition that is more than 2,000 years old. “A revolution is underway,” said Ahad Azimzadeh, 65, who calls himself “the largest exporter of Persian rugs in the world.” (Also read: Tehran: Iranians flock to Western art exhibition)
Carpets traditionally woven in the Islamic republic are known for their dense, curved floral designs in rich colors.
Their beauty and quality have long been recognized around the world, yet sales have plummeted over the past 30 years.
“In 1994, the value of Iranian carpets sold abroad reached $1.7 billion and accounted for 40% of our non-oil exports,” Ahmad Karimi, head of the Union of Manufacturers and Exporters, told AFP. handmade rugs.
By 2019-20, that figure had dropped to $70 million, he said.
By another measure, in 2000 Iran accounted for 32% of the world’s exports of handmade carpets. That figure fell to 7.9% in 2019 as exports from China and India increased, Karimi said.
– ‘New generations’ –
There has been “an impact” from international sanctions that have targeted Iran on its nuclear program, human rights and other issues, but he said other factors were more to blame.
“Especially by the great diversity of rugs on the market and the change in mentality and tastes of new generations,” Karimi said.
Azimzadeh, the rug exporter, said “the future is modern handmade rugs”.
He spoke at the Handmade Rugs Exhibition last week in Tehran. The annual event, suspended for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, features around 400 exhibitors from across Iran.
“Iranian rug designs are old, but today there is a strong demand for contemporary styles. They are more suitable for a modern home,” said Azimzadeh, a big talker who started small – as a seven-year-old weaver. year. By age 14, he had graduated from the business side of the trade.
Among the novelties exhibited during the exhibition which ended on Sunday: a carpet with small squares of hypnotic blue and white diagonal lines.
Another depicts diamonds and other geometric patterns in golden silk on a black background. A wool rug looks like an ink roller has splattered gold on it.
“The colors are bright and the sizes smaller” is what modern tastes demand, Azimzadeh said.
An extreme but less typical example of this “revolution”, Azimzadeh stands in front of a three square meter (3.6 square yard) woven carpet. It depicts world figures including actor Charlie Chaplin, physicist Albert Einstein and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
– From art to the doormat –
The new style is also less expensive.
Some sell for $3,000 or $4,000, while Azimzadeh has a traditional 2,000 square meter rug from Tabriz priced at $120 million.
Its inventory also contains a 170-year-old coin from Kashan available for around $160,000.
For now, modern creations are still in the minority on its stand in the exhibition, but the traditional stock will be phased out, he said.
“Next year, 70% of the carpets on display will be modern,” predicts Azimzadeh.
Karimi, of the Exporters’ Union, laments that Iranian carpets are now perceived as “a consumer good to be put outside the door, whereas in the past it was an investment.
“It has lost its status as an art object.”
Another trader, Abbas Arsin, was perhaps ahead of his time when he created what he calls the “transition carpet” 25 years ago.
He took traditional patterns and faded the bright colors by rubbing them and leaving them in the sun.
“My father and older brother couldn’t understand why I was exhausting myself making old carpets fade,” said Arsin, 40, the third generation of his family in the business.
But when he exhibited his first works and customers came, his family encouraged him to “just do that”, he recalls smiling.
Arsin said that India, Pakistan, Turkey and China overtook Iran in the global market because “we Iranians had less relationship with the rest of the world. We didn’t see the changes taking place”.
Even now, not everyone is convinced.
“A year ago, we started making modern design rugs, but they only represent 5% of our production and I don’t think we will go beyond that,” said Mehdi Jamshidi, 42, director sales of the Iran Carpet company.
“Modern rugs will never replace traditional rugs, which are deeply rooted in our culture and our regions.”
Hamid Sayahfar, 54, a merchant who spends his time between Tehran and Toronto, said the new geometric styles might work in an office, but not at home.
It’s just a fad, he says, “and like any fad, it’s going to die out.”
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