Faig Ahmed defies our notions of what a carpet—the most downtrodden of things—should look like. In his hands, carpet-making rebels, melts, pixilates, short circuits, corrupts, grows spikes, and takes on defiant new forms, transforming from thing of service into psychedelic post-Millennial mandala, made of wool. Ahmed is not the first artist to have toyed with carpet-making as a medium, but he is one of the few to apply strictly orthodox rug weaving techniques to such contemporary ideas.Born in 1982, Faig Ahmed studied sculpture at the Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art in the capital city, Baku, but was expelled for covering the school’s facade in fabric stolen from the fashion department. During a trip to India, he experimented with local embroidery techniques, triggering an introspective spiritual transformation. Ahmed returned home with different ideas on what rebellion could look like.
Born in 1982, Faig Ahmed studied sculpture at the Azerbaijan State Academy of Fine Art in the capital city, Baku, but was expelled for covering the school’s facade in fabric stolen from the fashion department. During a trip to India, he experimented with local embroidery techniques, triggering an introspective spiritual transformation. Ahmed returned home with different ideas on what rebellion could look like.
Faig Ahmed spent a few years convincing traditional weavers to craft his designs, being told “no” by everyone except one, who agreed to work with Ahmed as long as he didn’t tell anyone. From there, Ahmed began repurposing the ancient rug-weaving traditions of his homeland, working with teams of up to 25 craftspeople to create “liquid” carpets that aimed to bend and warp the very fabric of his society. Sometimes he designed the carpets from scratch, other times he repurposed centuries-old rugs—each time, the results have been mesmerizing and impossible to ignore. They fused the glitchy, Internet-friendly aesthetic of his millennial generation with the most ancient of Eastern folk art traditions.
Azerbaijan, a tiny, oil-rich nation bounded by Armenia and the Caspian Sea, is an ancient center of carpet weaving, a tradition that has ben transferred orally and through practice by families (primarily women) since the third or fourth century B.C. The stories and traditions surrounding carpets run deep in Azerbaijan—starting a new carpet was always just cause for a feast, and gifted rug weavers would be glorified by the greatest poets.
When a woman married, often the only thing she would bring with her would be a rug from her family’s home. In a nation that has been invaded multiple times, and changed languages from Farsi to Arabic, Cyrillic and Latin, elements of traditional home decor have come to represent cultural consistency. In November 2010, the Azerbaijani carpet was pronounced a “Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage” by UNESCO. (The cultural tradition is commemorated at the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum in Baku, where Ahmed lives and works.)
While the contemporary art scene in Azerbaijan is still developing its own identity, its move forward, ironically, is being spearheaded by Ahmed and others who are delving into the past. Ahmed’s work has taken him to the 52nd Venice Biennale, where he represented Azerbaijan, and to galleries and museums in Europe, India, Hong Kong, Russia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. In 2013, the artist was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize 3 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and his work is part of the Amhem Museum, the Buta Foundation, the Seattle Art Museum and the Yarat Contemporary Art Centre collections.
Much like the master weavers who preceded him, Ahmed is on track to become one of the carpet artists celebrated by the bards and poets of his time—the bloggers, the journalists, the editors—who are so entranced by his work.