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Carpet diem! Traditional crafts adapted for a changing market in Turkey

Tribal Kurdish Cuval, ca. 1880, by the CL Lane Collection

“The chemical dyes of the carpets that were woven 40 to 50 years ago were so bright that they exhaust your eyes”

“Intangible cultural heritage” is the term affixed by cultural policy makers to mark aspects of culture beyond the built environment, such as architecture, archaeological ruins, and cultural landscapes. UNESCO has defined intangible heritage as living expressions of traditional cultural ideas through such activities as crafts, cuisine, design, etc. But including “intangible heritage” in cultural heritage policies can be difficult, as the traditional aspects change to adapt to current cultural conditions. But cultural traditions have always evolved or been adapted to changing situations, while many other traditions have been lost or abandoned.

The centuries-old tradition of rug-making in various parts of the Middle East is a fascinating example. Carpets and tapestries have long been popular trade items across the region, with numerous designs and styles representing different cultural, or even religious, traditions. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, traditional dyes were replaced by synthetic dyes across much of the Middle East, essentially destroying the traditional look of the carpets. As a result, the colors become too vivid for the tastes of the Western market (the photo above by the CL Lane Collection of a ca. 1880 Anatolian rug showing harsh colors of synthetic dyes is shared here under CC BY-SA 3.0).

To adapt to the changing market—and to climate change perhaps?—carpet makers have taken to laying out their wares in the hot summer sun to bleach out the dyes to more palatable pastels, creating a rich new ephemeral cultural landscape in the process.


Turkey’s Colorful Carpet Fields Bask in Summer Sun

By Palko Karasz

The New York Times

August 23, 2018

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