Credit: Stephen Heraldo

Faig Ahmed: Collision, on view now through May 15 at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, throws a digital wrench into the traditional looms on which Azerbaijan weaves its world-famous carpets. Inscribed by UNESCO in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the classic art of Azerbaijani carpet-weaving embeds multiple strands of gender and racial identity into a seasonal practice that’s fundamental to the country’s social system. Men shear the sheep in spring, women spin and dye the wool in summer and autumn, and finally, women and girls perform the weaving in the long, cold winters. Each carpet carries a specific meaning in its design, often commemorating milestones such as the birth of a child, a marriage, or a funeral.

Credit: Stephen Heraldo

Ahmed, based in Baku, has transformed these symbolic objects through digital technology, producing radical rugs that drip, unravel, and pool in spectacular, psychedelic ways. In “Gautama,” traditional rug patterns on the left and right sides of a horizontal carpet collapse and stream downward in the center to form a three-petaled swirling pool on the floor. Through this attention-grabbing disruption of what is ordinarily a static and highly organized rectangular design, Ahmed introduces elements of time and motion into the eternity of Azerbaijan tradition. 

In other recent pieces, such as “Nizami Ganjavi,” the vertical progression of the traditional carpet design dissolves as it descends, losing color and pattern until it becomes a cascade of white woolen froth. “Doubt” reprises the digital swerve of “Gautama” in a vertical orientation, and an earlier piece, “Door of Doors” from 2016, shows the artist on the verge of discovering this strikingly original creative passageway.

Without a more intimate knowledge of Azerbaijan culture, it’s hard to know what these carpets mean in that context. One thing, though, is sure — the show’s title, “Collision,” succeeds in capturing the power of its visual impact. See

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on June 7, 2024. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


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