CORNELIA LAUF
Curator at Due LeoniVice President, CAA Italy at Columbia Alumni Association
Works at The Global Fine Art Awards, Visiting Professor at John Cabot University,
Guest curator at Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland moCa
Former Curatorial Assistant at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
«West-East Tapestries»
The fact of a Faig Ahmed should give us pause.

Not that an artist from Azerbaijan is vaulting to international prominence.

Not that the language of craft is usurping the position of art.

But that an artist who clearly sees his path as a maker, neither knows, nor needs to care, whether his work fits into canons of art history established in Munich, Hamburg, Vienna, London, or New York over the past two centuries.

Faig Ahmed is cheerfully oblivious to the 1985 exhibition of so-called "Oriental" carpets, at the Stedelijk, Amsterdam, by Belgian artist, Guillaume Bijl.

Bijl, coming out of Surrealism, and the institutional irony of a Marcel Broodthaers, chose the museum as locus and turned it into the commercial bazaar we all know the display of art to be. His iconic installation consisted in using the rooms of the museum as a readymade, and filling them, with perfect attention to miniscule detail, with the very best carpets to be found in Holland. All exhibited as if they were actually for sale. A brilliant and unsurpassable critique, harking not only back to Broodthaers, but Man Ray, Magritte, and Duchamp before him, and, why not?, Gustave Courbet's 1855 Paris exhibition, right behind.

Faig Ahmed sidesteps all this art history. Cheerfully, he uses the language of so-called "Western" installation – gallery walls, room-filling string-sculptures, track lighting to illuminate the torque of monumental shapes – all the while aggrandizing something far, far, away removed from our preoccupation with evolution of art historical form, with perspective, Euclidean geometry, a reference to faces, or the image itself. His is a language of abstraction that no longer seeks its home in icons, such as those of Kasimir Malevich or Vladimir Tatlin, but in the millennial traditions of pattern and form used in textiles. And though, ultimately, these patterns may refer to the Garden of Paradise, or animals, people, and divinities — these elocutions are created not with magisterial deftness of line and concept, but with millions of threads, patient rote labor, rooted utterly in traditions of the hand, in tribal traditions, in religious usages, in an object that was once (and in many places still is) floor covering, room divider, bedcover, saddle, or altarpiece.
Granted, Ahmed attended a Soviet-era art school, and learned illusionism and the techniques of representation via the canons "we" ascribe to, when we worship images, and create museum sanctuaries for their adoration. But, other than the preponderant input of Constructivism, a holdover visible in some of the fractal incursions in his marvelous morphing and exploding digitally designed textiles, his post-Lissitzkyian language is actually an incidental subject.

Ahmed's main theme is the carpet itself, with production method constituting part of his politics. In order to realize his computer-generated morphoses, Faig engages many dozens of women in small laboratories, plying a trade that is indeed endangered. Thus, the Baku-residing artist breathes new and 21st century life into an ancient but arresting – and ever more relevant – medium.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it not only enormous changes in labor and technological invention, but a fundamental shift in the domestic interior. Marriage customs shifted, the nuclear family became dominant over a multi-generational clan, and the workplace was outsourced, with the result being a new notion of home and domesticity. A rise in general affluence for the middle class led to the adoption of props and symbols of power once reserved for the aristocratic elite. And this included the use of Islamic carpets. The history of the carpet and its use in trade and representation is a fascinating tale of material culture. But perhaps it is more than this, and should be seen as a key to understanding the world today. Originally entering Renaissance European princely courts as an item of barter and diplomacy, the Islamic carpet soon found its way into the paintings of Europe's artists and thus began a general fashion and desire for things Eastern that reached its apogee in the nineteenth century. A respectable bourgeois salon featured its "Oriental corner," replete with palm trees. My own ancestors in Southern Germany, owned a marvelous Turkish settee and armchairs that now grace my own living room. Needlepoint cushions, plush red velvet conjured Eastern elegance, and wealth – surely a desirable concept for a family of artisans who had boldly acquired an Italianate villa in a small Black Forest village. Ludwig Rieger was a prominent restorer in Southern Germany, and his brother, Franz, a gifted painter of Biblical scenes (though, privately, a Realist painter). Their august home, frescoed ceilings, and stately "Oriental" salon showed belonging and prestige.

Who knows what genealogical codes lie in these patterns of making and presentation?

Faig Ahmed's work astounds me because it falls like a meteor on canons I devotedly studied for so many decades. His cheerful insouciance about these traditions is infectious. And in his ready adherence to international museum and gallery structures to insert and exhibit his work in, while at the same time presenting a language that relates not to the face of man but to an utterly abstract – God, Ahmed seems more in synch with current times, than many another artist.

We have to wonder about the images we ply the world with, us in the West. A violence of images that could also partly explain Jihadism and its many Western acolytes. The extinction of native weaving traditions might even be a useful tool to read the ideological battle the "West" is currently in. With his exploding forms, and carpet bombs, Ahmed tells us precisely what is going on with the world. Fury at the pornography of images. Fury at the excesses of capitalism and lack of a quotidian spirituality. Disgust with an art market wherein images are produced without urgency or legibility for the majority of mankind. And hope for a new language that might just come from the "East", with dignity, force, and power, asserting itself, unabashed and unashamed of a deliberate crudeness. The goal, of course, is to find symbolic, diplomatic, and cultural means to fuse old and new models, above all in dynamic ancient world centers such as Rome. Rome's relevance as a locus of accommodating and understanding world culture persists. With the exhibition of Faig Ahmed, Rome posits a stage for showing the political and cultural significance of carpets, and arresting the whirlpool of needless images. The museum thus becomes its highest self, a universal space for meaningful contemplation.