Nomad Art at the Textile Museum

Weavers of Central Asia and the Middle East have long been revered for their carpet-and rug-making prowess. These textiles were especially important to nomadic tribes who used them as an easily portable means to decorate their tents. Although the pile-woven Persian or Oriental carpets are perhaps the most famous of these textiles, the tapestry like, more abstract kilim can also trace its roots to these caravans. These rugs are the focus of the upcoming exhibit A Nomad’s Art: Kilims of Anatolia at the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum.

Opening September 3 and running through December 23, A Nomad’s Art features kilims collected by the late Murad Megalli, businessman and avid collector of exquisite textiles. The collection, donated to The Textile Museum by Megalli’s estate, features Turkish kilims from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some feature fairly “simple” zigzag patterns; others are covered in intricate designs.


Detail of kilim, Central Anatolia, late 18 th century. The Textile Museum 2013.2.1. The Megalli Collection.

Kilims, unlike their pile-woven brethren, are flat woven using a slit-tapestry technique. In slit-tapestry weaving, when a color change is made in the middle of a weft pick, the two weft ends are wrapped around adjacent warp threads, leaving a small hole or slit between the two colors. Because of this technique, most kilims have few if any vertical lines, as too many in a row would destabilize the fabric. Instead, kilims often feature shapes and symbols made from diagonal lines; variations on zigzags and diamonds are especially popular motifs.

For those who want to explore the symbolism of the kilims on display and learn more about the nomadic women who wove them, Senior Curator of Eastern Hemisphere Collections Sumru Belger Krody will be presenting her lecture “Turkish Legacy in Anatolian Kilims” on September 5. The lecture is a collaboration with the American Turkish Association of Washington, D.C., and is free to the public.

For more information on A Nomad’s Art and special events relating to the exhibit can be found here.

—Christina Garton

Featured Image: Kilim Header Photo, caption: Kilim, Central Anatolia, 18th century. The Textile Museum 2013.2.13. The Megalli Collection. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY AND TEXTILE MUSEUM.

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