Reading traditional crafts and national costumes through the concept of threshold: The Oriental carpet as a case study | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 8, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2040-4417
  • E-ISSN: 2040-4425



The DOBAG project refers to an experiment designed to regenerate traditional craft making in indigenous cultures. Its focus were rural villages in Western Turkey and it emerged at a historical moment when the idea had currency. The project was inspired by a German scientist who lived and researched in Turkey. Having discovered the recipes for reproducing the ancient textile dyes that were extracted from plants, he spent time teaching them to the women artisans. In an example of entrepreneurial initiative, he also set up cooperatives to organize the work so as to put the women back in control of production after years of industrial weaving using synthetic dyes, and weaving to pre-ordered templates. His business model regulated retail by cutting out the middle men and working directly with select international dealers. The project was seen as an achievement of heritage preservation by the founders and by researchers, and for several decades starting in the early 1980s and ending after 2010, it helped households in remote villages in rural Anatolia, home to former nomads, to improve their standard of living. However, changes in Turkish economy and global markets, lack of infrastructure to support the new way of life, and different family priorities facilitated a shift among villagers from heritage-based entrepreneurship to becoming urban wage labourers. The project embodied Western colonialist guilt, the fantasy of saving the ‘noble savage’, and the tourist imagination in search of authenticity. The villagers, however, appeared more concerned with making a living, and heritage did not feature highly in their concerns. They treated the ‘staged authenticity’ demanded by the project as a sort of marketing tool. The comparison between the inside perspective of the weavers, and the outsiders, provided a starting point for problematizing the meaning and the usefulness of tradition in crafting identities through national costumes or national carpets. Some of the researchers who studied the DOBAG project rejected a binary approach in favour of a more nuanced view with less well defined categories. One such example, the notion of ‘thresholds’, was found both in the field work of anthropologists and in the art of Fatma Shanan, whose recent exhibition deals with issues of thresholds (e.g. between genders, interior/exterior, pure/contaminated, compliant/subversive, tradition/modernity), and portrays women negotiating the invisible boundaries of tribal community in the process of modernisation, which is a part of a modern state.


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