The first thing Mohamed Ali tells me when I walk into Sherazi Carpets in Muthaiga, Nairobi is that there is so much to Iranian or Persian carpets that it would probably require several sessions with him for me to fully grasp the bulk of it.
While I don’t know this at the start, by the time I am leaving with recommendations of books to pore through and several pages with different motifs to decipher, I am in awe of this whole new realm that I knew nothing about.
I also have the notes I have been scribbling down to go through, because he will not let me record the conversation.
“I first came to Kenya in 1990,” he says.
“This is more than a carpet store, it is a carpet gallery,” he adds.
“It is very exclusive in East Africa and we stock all types and sizes of carpets from the Central Asian.”
There are carpets of different colours, designs, lengths, patterns and even calligraphy, and if you love home decor, this will be like walking into a candy store. He even has antique carpets.
A carpet can cost anything from Sh18,000 to Sh1 million. If you want a particular one that is not in his store, he sources it.
He shows me a small single-knotted 50 by 1 metre carpet woven from fine silk and whose price can go up to Sh100,000.
As with all his carpets, it is handwoven from natural fibre and can last for years.
The intricate drawings in this carpet tells a story, much like with a painting. There are trees, birds of paradise and hunters on horses, and he explains that it tells an elaborate hunting story.
The art of carpet weaving in Iran dates back to 2,500 years ago. While initially woven out of necessity to protect nomadic tribesmen from cold and damp floors, the craftsmanship has evolved and has today been passed down through
Mr Ali explains that the cost of a particular carpet is dependent on several factors such as the quality of wool or silk used.
For wool, this can, for instance, be from baby lamb or mountain sheep which live in cold areas and often have long strands.
Much like with famous painters like Vincent van Gogh, cost can also be determined by the weaver, and Mr Ali shows me a few which are signed by the artists who handcrafted them.
There is also the amount of work that goes into making a carpet. A 3x4 rug can sometimes take up to 12 months or two years to make, depending on how fine the knotting is and the material quality.
The conversation shifts to history followed by technical details such as dyeing and the different regions he represents before coming back to colours and motifs and what they signify.
The camel, for instance, represents wealth and prosperity, the tree of life signifies a direct path from earth to heaven, a pomegranate stands for fertility, a hand represents a prayer rug, and many more.
“It is a complex subject and there is no easy way to break it down,” he insists.