The Thousand-and-Second Tale: Oriental Carpets of the Barakat Collection: Seoul

O thou who sought us out on the thousand and second day —
Thou who threw thyself to the ocean of inundating beauty!
Will thou tell us of what guided thy steps?
Let us recount the verses of the mahmal travelling to the sacred land under the night sky.

Barakat Seoul presents The Thousand-and-Second Tale: Oriental Carpets of Barakat Collection, an exhibition that stirs awake the immersive beauty of eminent Oriental carpets from Wednesday, November 25, 2020, to Sunday, February 28, 2021. Sharing a world of luxurious woven art spanning many centuries, from the Turkish Hereke carpets woven for the Ottoman Empire to illustrative Persian carpets that exemplified the Iranian culture as well as the decorative mahmal, a ceremonial palanquin used for pilgrimages to Mecca, we move beyond the Thousand and One Nights and onto the second night to begin our journey.

In a hot and arid environment of the Middle East, where remarkable exotic and novel artistic culture flourished, textiles were an essential part of life. Thick weavings formed a refuge, covering up walls and sedan chairs to protect those inside; carpets laid on the ground functioned as mobile furniture, opening up the possibility for multiple uses of spaces. Where Western European countries developed furnitures that favoured long legs to avoid cool drafts of the ground, the Middle Eastern lifestyle took place on the cool floor and carpets were perfect for keeping down the dust and providing enough warmth for cooler evenings. Paired with such practical purposes, their lustrous hues and exquisite patterns would have spread a paradisal scape, providing a visual feast for one’s eyes.

The importance of weavings in the Arab world was underscored most strongly in the kiswah, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba shrine in Mecca, and the mahmal, which performed a symbolic role in the pilgrimage processions carrying it to Mecca. Used since the 13th century as a ceremonial sedan chair during the Hajj period as people left to Mecca during the pilgrimage month (Dhu al-Hijjah), the mahmal was decorated with a silk cover splendidly embroidered with gold thread, performing a sacred role as it was placed on the back of a camel or other pack animal for the pilgrimage journey. A new kiswah was typically woven in Egypt and Yemen and sent to Mecca through the mahmal’s procession, while the previous kiswah that had decorated the Kaaba in the preceding year returned home with the mahmal and was treasured as a sacred object by the royal household.

Forming fantastical patterns with their lavish use of sparkling gold thread and beautiful silk, Oriental carpets were seen as the furnishings of paradise. In the Qur’an, paradise is depicted as a land of eternal life and happiness where one enjoys the Fruits of the Garden while languorously reclining on a carpet embroidered with splendid patterns. The fact that it was a carpet that decorated this paradise landscape of unending happiness, free from the travails of this world and religious proscriptions, is the very evidence of the extent that carpets were cherished and venerated within the Arab culture.

With their long history, carpets surely are the most widely recognised works of Middle Eastern art around the world. The most evoked example of this longstanding tradition of treasuring carpets is the inclusion of miraculous items such as the Magic Carpet of the Thousand and One Nights, a collection of old Middle Eastern tales. Turkey’s Hereke carpets and the silk carpets hand-woven in the Iranian cities of Qum and Kashan all collectively produced some of the most expensive weavings in the world today owing to their distinctive elegant lustre and magical colours. Their real value lay in the sophisticated and lengthy production process where a single carpet intended to decorate the sultan’s palace or to serve for sacred prayers was laboured over for years, with the weaver’s hands and eyes passing hundreds of thousands of times over each exquisite twist of gold and silver thread, silk and cotton, wool and camel hair.

Integrating contemporary artistry in a single work that also constituted quotidian life, the Oriental carpet with its combination of aesthetics and practicality, enriched the hardships of life. As age-old items that materially lived through the passage of time, the carpets still remain captivating, bewitching us with its fantastic arabesque patterns of flowers, trees, birds and other animals, and sometimes script and geometric motifs – spiriting us off to an exotic garden of running water, to a paradise where the Tree of Life grows, to the sultan’s palace and the hunting grounds of warriors. Beginning with the sacred journey of the mahmal as it crossed the desert under the Middle Eastern night sky, The Thousand-and-Second Tale: The Oriental Carpets of Barakat Collection peregrinates over the enchanting colours and exquisite patterns of the Oriental carpets, narrating the story of the thousand and second night.

Barakat Seoul
58-4, Samcheongro, Jongnogu, Seoul, KR
11.25.20 – 02.28.20
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