The Tibetan tiger rug is iconic, and its powers are now being harnessed to support a global commitment to double tiger numbers in the wild by 2022, the next Chinese year of the tiger. The following is an abridged extract from COVER’s recent investigation into the art rug initiative Tomorrow’s Tigers which appears in COVER 53:
Tiger rugs have a long history. Knotted examples survive that were donated to monasteries in 19th-century Tibet, where the motif of the animal skin was believed to protect the monks. For many centuries preceding this period in time, woven textiles adorned with tiger stripes were considered to have apotropaic properties in large parts of Asia. Since then, the tables have turned and it is now the tigers themselves that need protecting. To this end, a major new fundraising project, Tomorrow’s Tigers, featuring limited-edition art rugs has been launched to support a global commitment to double tiger numbers in the wild by 2022.
WWF has been at the forefront of the TX2 goal. To sustain its vital conservation work, the organisation turned to London-based curatorial collective Artwise, who devised and curated Tomorrow’s Tigers. Ten acclaimed contemporary artists, including Gary Hume, Anish Kapoor, Kiki Smith and Rose Wylie, have supplied designs for a new kind of tiger rug, taking inspiration from antique predecessors as well as the mighty tiger itself. To do the designs justice in the hand-knotted medium, Susie Allen, founding director of Artwise, contacted distinguished carpet brand Christopher Farr.
Suitably, the art rugs are made in the hills of northern India, using traditional weaving and hand dyeing techniques, allied with high-quality natural wool. Matthew Bourne of Christopher Farr describes making the rugs as a ‘big job’. Working with artists is completely different from working with interior designers, he explains: ‘With interior designers it is about helping them find a solution for a room. When you are dealing with artists, you are translating and making what is in their heads.’ Luckily, Christopher Farr has decades of experience in this line, meaning that the numerous textures, extensive sampling and getting ten rugs signed off in a year were all within reach for the team.
Rose Wylie’s design incorporates a mirrored upper half of a pouncing tiger with its tongue sticking out in her characteristic naïve style. Gary Hume has stayed with the traditional flayed-skin look but built up his creature in a completely novel, painterly way. His palette of blues and greens is far from the warm tones we are accustomed to seeing in these weavings, but the result somehow remains deeply evocative of the Tibetan forerunners. With a field of deep ochre, the rug by American artist Kiki Smith features a sinewy, grey big cat, with a skilfully executed pelt. Raqib Shaw’s detailed paintings of magical worlds have translated well into a beautiful jungle scene in jewel tones, with a more naturalistic take on flora and fauna.
The rugs will be on show at Sotheby’s New Bond Street premises in London on 29 January-4 February 2019 along with a selection of rare antique pieces. Each rug is available in a limited edition of ten, and will retail at prices starting at £10,000. Profits will go directly to support tiger conservation in the 13 tiger range countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.