Category Archives: beautiful coincidence

Woven into a documenta carpet

M: You’re on a carpet in the documenta!

Me: What?

M: Did you know that you’re on a carpet in the documenta?

Me: No. What?!

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Two years back when they told me, I thought this was a joke. An odd one, but a joke. I laughed it away, until I saw the pictures. That was indeed me, and the folks from the circus in Afghanistan with whom I worked. But how did we get there, into an art piece, an uber-dimensional wall-hanging carpet in one of the biggest contemporary art exhibitions in Germany? And how did somebody find and identify me on that?!

The situation must have been quite comical indeed. An old friend of mine, walking with his family through the Kassel documenta, wandering from room to room, tired after seeing one art piece after the next and nearly deciding to go home, when my friend’s sister suddenly screamed out: “That’s A.! That’s her on the carpet!” To say the least, her eye sight and memory must have been really darn good, as we hadn’t seen each other for some time, I wore a headscarf on the picture and even the others had to take a second or third guess before believing that it was me. Baffled, they took pictures of the carpet and sent them to my parents, who skyped me as I was in Kabul at that time.

Imagine, your face woven into a carpet, a piece of art. It’s rather something you’d expect of a king, I guess. At least I didn’t plan for my life to be portrayed in a carpet and hung in an art exhibition. Especially while not knowing that I would be woven and hung…in a way. I felt ambivalent about it, partly because I initially didn’t know where the photo came from and who used it in that way. I called up the others from the circus, and none of them was aware of their involvement in an art project in Germany. Once I saw the picture of the carpet, I remembered. Snow, cold, a group of artists traveling through and visiting the circus, me staying for courtesy for a tea, them asking to take a photo of us in the snow while they were walking out to catch their next appointment. None of us knew where this photo would end up, digitally collaged with other people’s photos in a different setting.

Now, two years later, it is an odd and beautiful reminder of that day that I might have otherwise forgotten. A day when the good-natured dog in the picture still lived, when the snow piled up in one of Kabul’s coldest winters, when I volunteered for the circus on weekends and Shirkhan still worked there, when I stayed for green tea and buiscuits, when I wished to quit my job and do my own projects. A day, woven into a carpet. So in the future, when civilization has broken down, and digital records have crashed in some future internet catastrophe, I will still be found on a carpet, smiling about in Goshka Macuga’s ‘Of what is, that it is; of what is not, that is not'[dOCUMENTA (13), 2012]

Here’s a German article on the documenta with the carpet on:!96101/
Here’s the artist’s website:


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Filed under beautiful coincidence, connections, English, Kabulistan, Memory

We don’t know where we are until we remember

IMG_0876The world turns in circles. Our own little life worlds run in circling movements forward.

Experiences are connected to things we read or hear or get lectured in. The ah-ha moment of seeing something in front of us that we have read about. The understanding that comes with Captain Hindsight. But not only in a way of “If I had known”, but also in “wow, I know now and how special makes that, what has been”.

Sitting in a morning lecture on the influence of Timurid architecture, scribbling notes while glancing views on the power point. Ten people in a room, one talking, me listening. I write down something about octagonal shapes and eight minarets, as I glance at a picture from the corner of my eyes that seems familiar. I see light garlands pendling in the wind.  

I re-adjust my view.

It’s just a domed building. No garlands, no movement on the picture. But I still see it.

Pink, green, yellow, white. No light emanating from them as it was daytime when we visited. IMG_0891The light garlands must have been there for a celebration. And we were there to pass the day. Sa’s turquoise scarf, her observing eyes, our scarce words speaking of the language barrier, our smiles of overcoming it. As we were walking along the excavation site, I tried to make sense of the building, tried to connect it to something. But my total ignorance of Iranian history and Islamic art and architecture back then, showed me a beautiful building. And through the lack of a common language between my hosts and me, and the absence of any guidebook (yes, there are people travelling without guidebooks, which makes it much more interesting to explore!), I was left with admiration alone.

What I didn’t know -and wouldn’t know fIMG_0909or some years- is that I was standing in the former capital of the Mongol Il-Khanid rulers of Persia (Iran), who built this master piece in the 14th century (1302 to 1312 AD). The dome that I tried to get onto a photo -my problems illustrate how huge it was or how inapt I was in photography- would turn out to be one of the largest brick domes in the world, just at the theoretical engineering limit for a brick dome. I couldn’t decipher the inscriptions back then, nor could I understand how the patterns were constructed out of names (Allah, Muhammad and Aliin this picture). IMG_0898For me it was a day-tour to interesting old buildings whose history I didn’t know. I walked away from the others, into one of the buildings. In a niche I come to sit and overlook the area, contemplating how I got here and what this all means.IMG_0902 Nothing made sense back then yet, despite the immediate tales we tell ourselves – we travel, we explore, we learn, we make connections. Stranded in a couchsurfing adventure in a home of an Iranian family, communicating, but rather guessing on the implications of words and phrases, gestures and courtesy, I couldn’t possibly know that four years, – crazy travels including living in Afghanistan and driving a Rickshaw through Iran – later, I would sit in a classroom in the Netherlands and see a picture that explains where I had been in the first days in Iran, back then, when I forgot to note down where I had been and was never able to reconstruct it. Until today.IMG_0894

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Filed under architecture, beautiful coincidence, English, Memory