Art is too often the casualty of war. Unlike the creeping degeneration of time that nips away at fresco masterpieces, war is swift and brutal: one second a proud statue stands heroically, the next finds a pile of rubble and dust. The trade embargo that the U.S. sanctioned against Iran lacked the dramatic permanent damage and rapid violence seen in the all-too-common atrocities committed against art in times of war. But U.S. art collectors still felt the intense vacuum resulting from the blockade against Persian rug trading; a feeling that bore unmistakable parallels to tragic losses of art as casualties of war. Thus it stands that the recent lifting of the trade embargo against Iran finally flows with the poetry of the Persian rug in stanzas that express unity and love.
While tensions between the U.S. and Iran have persisted for decades, the specific chapter of the trade embargo that impacted Persian rug collectors was implemented in 2010. As a protest against Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. instigated a trade embargo meant to deal a blow to the country’s oil trade. While the oil trade bore the brunt of the embargo, the immense Persian rug trade was equally dealt a crippling blow. U.S. collectors and rug merchants made up a significant percentage of the market for Iran’s Persian rug exports; roughly 20% according to estimates prior to the 2010 restrictions.
It’s difficult to trace the origins of the Persian rug but many consider the Pazyryk carpet to be one of the earliest surviving examples. Though the rug wasn’t unearthed until 1949, radiocarbon dating estimates that the rug was woven sometime in the 5th century BC. Needless to say, the Persian rug’s place in history is storied and rich. These rugs have witnessed the rise and fall of empires making it that much more peculiar to find trade of these almost timeless pieces of art, devoid of political affiliation, stifled by modern political clashes. Yet, the lengthy trade embargo was severely strict in its wall against Persian rugs. These weren’t just new rugs or rugs coming from Iranian soil that were being denied entry into the U.S. Even rugs that had simply originated in Iran only to be exported at a later date were banned meaning that a Persian rug that had not crossed into Iranian borders in years was still banned from entering the U.S. Naturally, collectors were left feeling a potent mixture of frustration and confusion.
However, many remain ignorant to the intricate creations of the Persian rug that, while built around the artist as a nucleus, typically involves a family each enacting a vital role. This family ushers the rug into the world in all of its aesthetic beauty and poetic grace. This flow of art and love is so pure in the creation of a Persian rug that it’s hard to ignore the affront of a stagnating political trade embargo. It wasn’t just oil barons that felt the bite of the blockade. Artisans and their families who had graced the world with valuable pieces of art were in the line of fire too.
When President Obama officially lifted the trade embargo in January, it was as if the dam dropped and the poetry flooded in once again. The Persian rugs are finally crossing the U.S. borders again and the true liberty of art is in motion. In many cases, absence has made the heart grow fonder. But it’s still difficult to recount those bleak 5 years when the Persian rug trade took a bullet aimed at the oil industry, leaving a scar that we can only hope will heal through the elixir of time and the golden purity of artistic intention.