First published: Summer 2001
The outsider vision is not solely the preserve of individual creators, it also pervades the cultures of people who find themselves marginally in touch with the mainstream. From the makers of Vodou banners of applique sequins to the enthusiastic builders of American art-cars, different groups have shown how unique objects can share a common strand. One further group should be added to the list, the Beluch weavers of Afghanistan, an overlooked community of folk artists whose work has been inspired by the Afghan War.
An informal confederation of nomadic and semi-nomadic herders who range across eastern Iran, western Afghanistan, and north-western Pakistan, they call themselves by a word meaning simply ‘nomad’. The tribes who merged as Beluch seem to have arrived in their present territories a millennium ago, from two distinct sources and opposite directions. Some speak Farsi (Persian), while others speak Brahui, a member of the Dravidian, pre-Aryan, language group of India. They descend mythically from the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, whilst their Sunni Muslim religious observances are tinged with Indian practices.