Chantehs are small bags made by nomadic weavers in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East. They are unpretentious and modest, full of charm and character. In the past they were never made for sale, because chantehs are the most personal of tribal weavings. Some, known as 'dokhtarbaf' or 'nashibaf', were bags made by girls learning skills from their mothers. Such chantehs are tiny and as naïve as a child's drawing. Some, called 'bibibaf' or 'ostadbaf', were dowry pieces, designed to show a young woman's skill or mastery of the craft, and thus to demonstrate that she would be an asset to her future husband's family. Others were made as wedding gifts or to celebrate special
occasions, but most commonly they served to carry small objects for personal use. They were private things.
Rugs and carpets, although often made for utilitarian purposes, were also commodities, for ever since the 19th century nomadic Persian womenfolk have contributed substantially to the tribal economy by selling them to dealers and middlemen. Even 'khorjin', saddlebags for camels, horses, and donkeys, were often made for sale. Chantehs were not, partly because they were personal possessions and also because they had no value in the marketplace.
Their weavers didn't have business interests in mind when chantehs were made; the women were not thinking of profit when they wove these modest bags, nor were they bound by aesthetic rules. They could make what they wanted. As always, they spun sheep's wool, dyed it with materials such as madder root, pomegranate rind, walnut husks, and vine leaves; they drew on design traditions that were based on ancient motifs and symbols, but they were nonetheless free to create exactly what came to their hands and imagination. Chantehs are the expression of informality and freedom from the expectations of others; it is not insignificant, therefore, that they were very often intended as gifts.
The preceding text is taken from ‘Questions of Travel’, published by the Douglas Hyde Gallery in 2010.
'Chanteh' is an exhibition of over 200 old and antique tribal bags from the Fars region of Iran. This unique and beautiful collection was put together by the late Parviz Homayounpour and has been lent to us by Label STEP (Switzerland), a foundation that works for fair conditions in carpet production and trade.