Synergy [...] means the behaviour of whole systems unpredicted by
the separately observed behaviours of any of the system’s separate parts.
Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1968)
In 2008 Carlos Noronha Feio began work on a series of rugs, produced in the famous Portuguese town of Arraiolos, that combined the Arraiolos technique with designs inspired by the aesthetics of the Afghan war rugs. These two distinct forms of rug making share stylistic evolutions determined by historical factors: the 17th century Arraiolos rugs in Portugal and the war rugs of the 80s and 90s Afghanistan and Pakistan. Noronha Feio is interested in the fact that both types of rugs are iconic representations of their national historical cultures. They also share a contradiction in having emerged from the coexistence of two distinct cultures in a specific historical and geographical moment.
The Arraiolos rug, in the Portuguese context, constitutes one of the greater patrimonial value representations of artisanal culture. They are hand embroidered wool rugs on a jute fabric, made in oblique cross stitch. Its production technique dates from the late 15th century, following the decree of expulsion of Muslim and Jewish minorities and the consequent closure of their workshops in Lisbon. Part of this community migrated to the south of Portugal, where there was more religious tolerance, settling in Arraiolos, Alentejo. The examples executed during the 17th century feature decorative embroidered motifs influenced by designs of Persian knot rugs. Throughout the 18th century the oriental stylized motifs were combined and normalized with popular motifs creating the well-known style of the Arraiolos rugs. During the 20th century the Arraiolos rug had a renaissance, reintroducing themselves into Portuguese homes, as a representation of the economic and social status of the middle class.
Afghan war rugs were named as such after incorporating war motifs in decorative design. These war motifs have their origin in the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan (1979-1989) and evolved with the following conflicts, from the civil war of the 90s and the attacks of September 11 to the birth of the war against terrorism in the region. The rugs maintain their traditional manufacturing styles, produced mainly by Afghan women, who began to introduce their warlike reality into traditional geometric designs. The figurative decorative elements allowed in the Muslim culture, such as flowers and birds, were gradually replaced with tanks, helicopters, rifles and drones. These rugs have become unaffordable for the Afghan population, becoming a part of the market for tourists or western collectors.
Last September Noronha Feio invited me to accompany him on his visit to the production workshop of his new Arraiolos work, everything is connected, 2019, present in this exhibition. We found two women, working at the entrance of the workshop, each producing a cross stitch rug, a slow and manual work. The building contains rooms full of wools of different shades divided by colours (green, red, blue, yellow), you can breathe an air of stillness. The production process takes time and different hands. Noronha Feio digitally draws his composition which is then translated manually by a workshop technician to its real size on paper. The chosen colours, of different tonalities of wool, are marked on the paper, to be executed by the weavers. The artist has been developing his language with each new rug, in the beginning, there were more war references, these have since become abstracted, replaced by symbols of the Afghan tradition. Over the years, he has been challenging the team of weavers to innovate their techniques, leaving their traditional and conceptual production format.