TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Gabbeh: The Movie and The Rug

Several years ago, I saw a movie, Gabbeh, which I have never forgotten. Gabbeh is the name of a beautiful young woman, a nomad in Iran. It is also a style of carpet made by her people.

The movie tells her story with very little narrative- it's all visual poetry. Stark landscapes, slow moving beauty of a harsh lifestyle which is quickly disappearing. Gabbeh's family are sheep herders and carpet makers. The movie is loaded with wonderful images of the carpet-making process and gorgeous costumes worn by the women. Bright silks and shisha mirrors blow in the winds, contrasting with the barren landscapes.

Wikipedia gives the following blurb on the movie:

"Gabbeh (1996) is a film by Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

The film gets its name from a type of Persian rug and starts by showing an elderly couple, carrying their Gabbeh, walking toward the river hoping to wash their rug. When the rug is spread on the ground, a girl, referred to as Gabbeh, magically comes out of it. The movie follows her story and audience learn about her family, her uncle who is hoping to find a bride, and most importantly her longing for a young man she hopes to marry."

Gabbeh rugs are inspired by the landscape. Minimalist designs replicate the colors of the land in natural wool colors or veggie dyes. The rugs tell stories, recording events important to the maker. Variegated colors imitate rock formations often accented by small animals or people in the border, a corner, almost hidden from the larger design. Newer gabbeh rugs are also very soft and silky. They use the undercoat of winter wool which is not as strong as the outer coat, but excellent for bedrooms and lower traffic areas.

Pictorial carpets showing animals or people are unusual in Islamic art as the Koran advises against it in order to prevent idolatry. Some nomadic groups who may have embraced Islam might still retain some traditions, like incorporating animals or people into the gabbeh rugs, speaking back to an even older history.

Film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf speaks about the film and its connection to the rugs: "I think Gabbehs are like good Iranian films. What attracts foreign audiences to Iranian films is their simplicity and their re-creation of nature. These are the same two qualities that have made Gabbehs popular in foreign markets as well. In western countries, people are overwhelmed by difficult, complicated, and rough situations. When they go to the movies they don’t want to see the same complexity and violence they are surrounded by. That is why they are fascinated by simple Iranian films that remind them of nature. Iranian Gabbehs also have a sort of naturalistic poetry about them that gives you a sense of tranquility. You feel that you have spread nature on the floor of your living room.

“Gabbehs have soothing designs somewhat similar to the simple paintings of children. Unfortunately, out of every ten thousand Iranians, only one might have a Gabbeh at this house, or out of every one thousand Iranians, only one might have heard of it. What did we used to sit on forty years ago? A carpet or a kelim. And what is a carpet, except some wool and color and the labor of the weaver? And what is wool, except the labor of a herder? And what is color, except the labor of girls picking flowers in the fields? And don’t we make all of these out of our own labor our own materials here? Gabbeh is one of the most original types of nomadic carpets."

This clip gives a little glimpse into the feel of the movie:

Movies like Gabbeh are important in helping us take a look into a way of life which may be so completely foreign to the rest of us. It does speak to some traditions which we may find hard to understand, but it also opens a window into profound beauty that may help us find some common ground. We see so many images of violence coming from the region, much like the rest of the world is fed with our own heritage of blood and gore, that it is refreshing to just be with the desert, the colors, and the life of the gabbeh.

All of the carpets in this article are from the Nazmiyal Collection, a website dedicated to antique and contemporary carpets from the region. Owner Jason Nazmiyal provides excellent historical information on many carpets and has a page with articles on different subjects. If you are in the market for a rug, consider exploring the Nazmiyal Collection. They seem to have an excellent selection, superb quality and approachability.

And, if you are looking for a good movie, Gabbeh is a must see! There were VHS copies available on Amazon for under $5 when I wrote this article, so if your local library or video stores do not carry it, you should be able to find a copy pretty easily. Gabbeh, a story and a rug of poetry and beauty.


1 comment:

  1. I sure would love to own some of those rugs. :)


“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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