The art of buying a carpet. It’s an art ain’t it? Could be whimsical, or covered in an ecology of fanciful creatures, maybe a few sacred signs and stylized flowers thrown in for good measure? Pictorial echoes of the cultures that made them rolled up in threads of days gone by. Lovely that. Makes me think of the nomad wandering in a (hostile/barren) desert carrying his imaginary paradise in a two-dimensional Eden. Makes me think that having a carpet handy is imperative. Never mind a mounted elephant head, a handmade tapestry is the supreme travel trophy and a rare thrill. I don’t like trophies. But I love thrills. Like most alluring things, bagging a good carpet is not easy.

I remember being in Marrakesh, a place thick with carpet sharks and labyrinthine markets that I doubted I would ever find my way out of (as an aside I found and bought my very first pack of Doreen Virtue angel cards amidst the matting). The restrictions on portrayal of the human form in Islamic countries means some of the most popular designs are geometric arabesques. Which I happen to like. A lot. My bargaining session in the carpet souk took place to the sounds of Muslim devotional music. I felt triumphant and wanted to buy a tent too. Then I’d have the winning team that could always create an instant oasis. All I’d need is a sunset to ride off into when the time to move came.

There are two schools of thought about this. The buying and not my imaginary oasis. The first, the one expounded in many a story of old, holds that a casual carpet buyer like myself is a rare personality – an enthusiast. And as such, acts of expediency and novelty are performed almost without thinking. The second sees the exchange between myself and the carpet dealer as akin to a barely disguised duel, and that the art that lies within the rug must therefore contain hidden messages when put together. Am I suggesting subliminal carpets? Hell yes I am! I dig what Virgina Wolf wrote in A Sketch of the Past: ‘It is a constant idea of mine, that behind the cotton wool (of daily reality) is hidden a pattern; that we – I mean all human beings – are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.’ Treadable magic and being taken for a ride? Who’s gonna say no to that.


source: Maryam Montague


David Shrigley’s cartoon-like deadpan sketches make me laugh, a refreshing change to the saturation of digitally enhanced images we are bombarded with daily. His casual doodles portray a deliberately dysfunctional aspect of the human condition with such wit and simplicity that I’m always yearning for more.




Archaeologist Richard Klein, a Stanford University professor, takes the dawn-of-a-new-culture discussion in an exciting direction. In a Stanford Magazine article, Klein disagreed that upheavals like the Russian and French Revolutions, or the construction of the first cities, or even the introduction of the internal-combustion engine effected the greatest social changes. Klein contends the most influential revolution occurred in East Africa roughly 45,000 years ago. He suggests that if beads were among humanity’s first symbols, they represent one of the most important revolutions in our species career – the dawning of modern behavior.

Beads are my most favorite medium and one of the many reasons I’ve collaborated on an upcoming project with Monkeybiz, a non-profit bead collective in Cape Town, South Africa, dedicated to reviving the tradition of African beadwork. Traditionally beads through the ages were used not only to adorn the body, but as a measure of value in ritual and economic exchange between locals and foreigners. In traditional rituals, a fine bead necklace or beaded piece is treasured because it is thought to impart spiritual energy. I’ve learnt too that all colors used are invested with meaning – pink denotes poverty and the use of pink beads in a community could mean: “You are wasting your money and have no cows to pay for my lobola (bride price, traditionally settled with heads of cattle). You do not love me!” These messages are encoded on a huge range of artifacts including this chair I found on on my travels which took craftsmen six month to make in Nigeria. I’m still trying to decipher the meaning, but isn’t it astounding?