Pankisi Prayer Rug
A photobook work by Clifton Meador,
published by DeMerritt | Pauwels
The Republic of Georgia was largely distant from the central stage in the War on Terror, but during the hysteria that followed 9/11, one remote valley became marked as a potential hiding place for the Al Qaeda who fled Afghanistan. The Pankisi Gorge, which borders Chechnya, is the home to Georgianized Chechens, a group of people called the Kists. The Republic of Georgia is a largely and traditionally Christian nation, but the Kists, like the Chechens, are Muslim.
The hysteria of the war on terror obscured reality in a cloud of wishful paranoia: from the non-existent weapons of mass destruction to the imaginary sleeper terror cells in the US, American fear saw enemies everywhere. The Pankisi Gorge—a trouble place in its own terms—was no exception, and soon the idea that this trouble spot was home to hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters, all intent on manufacturing poison gas, became fixed in the minds of the leaders of the war on terror.
The reality was more complex and simpler: some Chechen fighters did take refuge from the Russian war on Chechnya in Pankisi Gorge. They were probably visiting their relatives there, co-religionists who shared a language and most of a culture. There was narcotic smuggling, and a few fighters who had been training for jihad were there, but it was no international headquarters for Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Ladin never hid in the gorge, and no ricin or sarin was produced there.
War is a long-standing condition in the northern Caucasus: from the time that Ivan the Terrible turned his cool, unsympathetic eyes on the southern border of Russia until now, there has been conflict between the Russians and the peoples of the Northern Caucasus.
The texture of daily life is easily submerged by the violence of the news cycle: big fears, propelled by vast armies, swamp the truth of quotidian life. There isn’t anything dangerous about people going about their daily life, trying to make a living in a desperately poor place.
I was in the Republic of Georgia with two of my colleagues to teach book arts to traditional crafts people, felt-makers. We asked if we could meet some of the craftspeople in the Pankisi Gorge, and one nice family invited us into their home, showed us their private mosque, and were very kind and welcoming. The simple facts of their lives—the hardships evident in their struggles to earn a living—made us all reflect on how the hysteria of a huge powerful country had trampled reality in the rush to exact retribution for 9/11. And so it was no big jump to the idea that all the fear surrounding the Pankisi Gorge was myth, that this was a small place, with people simply trying to get on with their lives.
Pankisi Prayer Rug was printed by the author at the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago, during the Spring of 2014, on a one-color Heidelberg press, with the assistance of Mary Clare Butler.
The color palette of Pankisi Prayer Rug is based on the blues and grays of a winter afternoon in the Caucasus Mountains of the Republic of Georgia. Images are printed in six non-process colors—including a fluorescent red—in an effort to recreate chromolithography as a contemporary practice.
The chiaroscuro felt print that wraps the deluxe edition was suggested by Nora Pauwels and John DeMerritt as a material expansion of the themes of the work. The book is wrapped in the stuff of the textile workers in the book: unwrapping the book puts the reader’s hands directly on a tiny part of their daily experience.
Pankisi Prayer Rug is published in two editions: A regular edition of 100 copies, smythe sewn, and bound in a lap case, tongue-in-groove binding with laminated boards, signed and numbered,
And a special edition of 30 copies, hand-sewn with six colors of thread and bound in a Bradel binding with slate antique English buckram. This version is wrapped in a chiaroscuro felt print (produced at Magnolia Editions) and housed in a custom pull-off box. Signed and lettered using the Georgian Alphabet.