ARE KAITAGS IMPORTANT OR ARE THEY AIRPORT-ART?
*note: all examples referred to are pictured in the kazbah
About 15 years ago the first kaitag embroideries appeared in London and at that time little was known about them and that is still the case.
Over the next few years more and more of them began to filter into the art market there and in America. Then in 1993 a book authored by Robert Chenciner was published and suddenly these folksy embroideries became “important”.
In that publication a number of examples were given “early” dates and enthusiastically described but little factual information was presented in support of those claims.
Over then next decade the “merchandising” of these embroideries has continued full stop and now there is even an organization and website, http://kaitag.org, devoted to promoting them.
Let’s all take a deep breath here and do a short analysis of what has and is happening here.
Mr. Chencincer, the author of the only book dealing with these textiles states his interest in them began in 1986, however, he doesn’t state that he made a large collection of them and has been the prime “supplier” to the several dealers who have been hawking them to collectors in England and America.
In his publication he presents good arguments but again few real facts to back up his claims. His sensational approach includes dating a number of the pieces in this book, which presumably were from his collection, with early 19th and even 18th century attributions.
Some of these textiles have even been dated to the 16th century by proponents who have nothing to present to support such claims.
This dating is complete nonsense and it exhibits the typical modus operandi that functions in the world of oriental carpets and textiles: Hearsay, dealer sales patter, opinions presented as fact to an audience who either doesn’t know fact from fiction or cares little about finding it out.
Kaitag embroideries are known to have been made in the Dagestan region of the south Caucasus but little else positive has been proven. They were unknown outside this region until the late 1980’s and while this is no proof of anything, it is indicative of something.
The reasons that are used by the proponents to explain this “lack of history” ie. “the role they played in rites of passage—birth, marriage, death—their strictly non-commercial creation, and their transmission from generation to generation”, are exactly the reasons that negate any real significant textile connections or history for them.
The patterns, which have been described as “Possessing tremendous visual appeal, symbolic power, and clear expression of the ancient cultures” reads well but says nothing. Tremendous visual appeal, really now?
I and other savants find their patterns a mis-mosh of design and their amorphous shapes and gross drawing incredibly amateurish compared with the other "real" textile traditions from the Caucasus.
The symbolic power fanciers of these cloths frequently allude to is not only subjective but,it too, rings of personal opinion presented as fact.
But the “clear expression of the ancient cultures that shaped the crossroads at which they were made” is perhaps the most ridiculous and silly description of any textile type I have heard in my 35 years of interest in oriental rugs.
There are several supposed exemplary and early examples of kaitags now posted in the kazbah and all of them, as well as any others I have seen, do not exhibit any of the characteristics to support the outrageous claims their owners or the dealers who peddle them have advanced and none of them could possibly be 18th century or earlier.
It seems the next ICOC will present a exhibition kaitags “ The exhibition will be made up of approximately forty outstanding examples of Kaitag embroideries from North American private collections.”
The exhibition is being sponsored by something called kaitag.org, which appears to be run and organized by Béa Welsh Weicker and Susan Scollay.
Weicker is a somewhat recent collector of textiles who lives in San Francisco and who, I know, was bitten by the kaitag bug some years ago and Scollay is described in the kaitag.org website as textile lecturer and researcher who I have never heard of.
Supposedly they or others affiliated with kaitag.org will present “scholarly research on and interpretation of Kaitag embroideries…(that will be)among the various papers offered at the April conference.”
This appears, at least on the surface as fine and good but I’ll eat my hat if anything to prove these weavings are more than “folk-art” is presented.
Actually this situation is just another example of the naiveté collectors of oriental rugs and textiles have always exhibited.
Kaitags might “readily engage western audiences” but do they really show “expressive line” and in fact what is expressive line?
Comparing the several kaitags pictured in the kazbah to a pair of embroideries, which are also pictured there, surely proves a picture is worth a 1000 words.
These other two embroideries are everything proponents ascribe to their kaitags and even much more.
These and other examples like them are the historic source the kaitag “tradition” developed from and why this easily seen fact is generally ignored by all those who have trumpeted kaitags is surprising.
But then again, compared to the historic weavings like these, kaitags could never be heralded as they have been and even more so the hype that surrounds kaitag could never have a chance to be believed by anyone.
The destruction of the kaitag “myth” is easily affected and I do not care to continue but would gladly do so to refute any claims to the contrary the organizers of kaitag.org, Mss Weicker or Scollay, or the dealers like Michael Franses or James Blackman who have successfully convinced collectors to purchase them at absurdly high prices, would care to offer in support of their “position”.
Kaitags are airport-art, ie. they are derivative of other earlier and far more significant means of traditional cultural expression.
Their designs are amorphous and while some are representational and have recognizable designs these are always executed with a child-like drawing style that has nothing in common with traditional cultural weaving.
These weavings might appeal to collectors of abstract art, they surely do not clearly express cultural identity or iconography.
Their drawing is amateurish and the color palettes and combinations are garish and almost always lack the subtlety and refinement that rightly characterizes masterpiece Eastern Mediterranean textiles.
The outrageous claims their supporters have attempted to float concerning their “antiquity” are also way off base.
Kaitags have made a few people a lot of money but will the faith the gullible collectors of these textiles have invested in them be proven?
I seriously doubt it but in the end time will tell if the kaitag embroidery will end up being exactly like the Ghiordes Prayer Rug craze. “Important”collectors of the last century, ie rich ones, believed in and invested huge sums of money in support of those beliefs that now are known to have been only fanciful and far from reality.