Carpets made in Afghanistan have a history of representing the imagery of war, but a recent work by artist Jim Ricks gives a conceptual perspective to this tradition. Carpet Bombing is a giant, handmade rug that depicts a “Drone Survival Guide” created by Amsterdam-based designer Ruben Pater. Pater’s diagram is a one-page illustration of various drone aircrafts, which references similar guides that were used to identify aircrafts in past wars. Ricks traveled to Afghanistan, where the drones on Pater’s survival guide are in use, to have a rug made by Kabul-based Haji Naseer and Sons Carpet Makers.
There’s more to Carpet Bombing than the illustration of a poignant pun, as Ricks tells The Creators Project, “I think there is a tendency to 'read' the carpet like a poster and stop there. What I think is important about the piece is that not only is the graphic appropriated, it is always shown horizontal and flat in the gallery, as a carpet should be, thus reversing the observer from drone back to human again, and that it can be sat or walked on, activating the work in the way that is in keeping with the Persian carpet as a social space.”
While Ricks acknowledges that his project shares similarities to Afghanistan’s war rug tradition, he says that there were also logistical reasons for having the rug made, “I chose Afghanistan because drones are in use there.” Considering that the project was originally commissioned by South Dublin art center Rua Red for a show curated by Paul McAree called Telling Lies, the work can also be read as a commentary on the relationship between the Western world and regions that are under drone surveillance; the Western audience can’t view the work without literally walking all over it.
Ricks ultimately chooses to keep his intentions ambiguous, much like the feelings of the people he met when he visited the region where these drones are in use. Ricks explains, “Having traveled two times to Afghanistan, it is clear that the reality of Afghan's views are somewhere far more complex than is thought on the outside. Perhaps this work can help convey that.”