Monday, July 18, 2016

2017 - The Year to Discover Central Asia

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Gur Emir, Samarkand. Image: Richard Marshall
Details of Uzbek Journeys 2017 one-of-a-kind, small group tours to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are now available.

The 16-day Uzbek tours, scheduled for the very best seasons in Uzbekistan, focus on the architecture, art, craft and history of this fascinating section of the Silk Road.

Explore the architectural masterpieces of the ancient cities of Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Bukhara and Khiva.

Visit artisans’ workshops to meet families who have practised their craft for generations and contemporary artists who are fusing ancient techniques with modern style.

Roam the bazaars, lounge around in tea houses and spend the night in a yurt in the Kyzyl Kum desert. Learn about the intrigues of the Great Game between Britain and Russia and view the extraordinary collection of avant garde art in remote Nukus.

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Magnificent Kyrgyz landscape
The 8-day Kyrgyz tours combine the majestic, rugged landscapes of snow-capped mountains and lush valleys, with visits to craft co-operatives, design workshops, felt carpet makers and yurt makers. 

Travelling around shimmering Issyk Kul lake, with the towering Tien Shan mountain range in view, you will understand how nomadic traditions are still at the core of the Kyrgyz people, who take immense pride in their heritage.  

There are opportunities for hiking, picnics by streams, and listening to traditional musicians. You will have the chance to see a kupkari (buzkashi) match and an eagle hunt. The tour also includes a visit to Sunday's Karakol livestock market.

Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful country, often called the Switzerland of Central Asia, and makes a marvellous contrast to the landscapes of Uzbekistan.

Why not discover this fascinating region in 2017?

View the 2017 Kyrgyzstan tours.
View the 2017 Uzbekistan tours.

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Aidai  Asangulova's stunning felt piece

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Uzbekistan: A Passion for Printing

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Woodblocks - qolibs - in Yuriy Pak's collection
In a small, mud-walled workshop on a winding street in the labyrinth of Tashkent’s Old Town, delicate silk scarves imprinted with bold designs flutter in the air.

“Seven block-printing stamps were used to make this scarf,” said artisan Yuriy Pak, showing off a gossamer gold silk creation emblazoned with circular designs enclosed in elaborate borders.
Casually attired in jeans, a T-shirt and baseball cap, Pak looks like an unlikely ambassador for one of Central Asia’s traditional design techniques.

But the 60-year-old craftsman is at the vanguard of efforts to keep the ancient art of block printing alive in Uzbekistan.
“We decided to revive this form of applied art here,” Pak told with a sweeping gesture taking in the scarves drying from washing lines and spread over tables in his higgledy-piggledy workshop in the shadow of Tashkent’s imposing Hazrat Imam Mosque.

A fragment of block-printed fabric reportedly recovered from the Samarkand tomb of Bibi-Khanum, the wife of 14th-century conqueror Tamerlane, is testament to the age-old roots of this art form in the land that is now Uzbekistan.

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Scarves dyed in natural, plant dyes
For centuries, chitgarlik – as block printing is called in Uzbek – has been handed down from one generation to the next, with some families boasting genealogical trees of master craftsmen dating back to the 19th century and beyond.

These days, the survival of a craft dating back centuries is under threat.
Artisans under whom block printing was kept alive during the Soviet era are aging and dying, and the younger generation is often reluctant to uphold the tradition.

There are now only a handful of craftsmen and women practicing the art of block printing by hand in Uzbekistan, in places like Bukhara and the silk-weaving center of Margilan in the Fergana Valley.

Pak is keeping the skill alive in Tashkent, though it was not passed down in his family, which is part of Uzbekistan’s community of ethnic Koreans exiled to Central Asia by Stalin in the 1930s.

A one-time artist and textile maker, Pak is a newcomer as a chitgar, or block printer. He developed an interest in the technique and converted his former textile-production workshop in Tashkent’s Old Town into a block-printing operation around three years ago.

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Yuri Pak's atelier in the old city of Tashkent - a rare 19th century building
These days, working with two assistants, Pak produces about 1,000 scarves a year, which retail in Uzbekistan for around $25 apiece in boutiques and gift shops.

To learn the art of block printing, Pak studied in Margilan under renowned master craftsman Solijon Akhmadaliyev, who coached him in the general techniques.

“I had to master the fine points myself,” said Pak.
“I had to work at it,” he added, recalling how at first “the dyes would wash away” during the printing process until Pak developed his own tricks of the trade.
“We have our own secrets now,” he said with a chuckle. “I put in so much effort to learn those secrets of ours that it’s a shame to reveal them!”

Pak sources his silk from the celebrated Yodgorlik factory in Margilan and dyes it in his workshop using natural ingredients – anything from walnuts and pistachios to berries and onion skins.
He demonstrated the traditional dye-making technique using a mixture of flour, mung beans, bone cartilage, cottonseed oil and water: “You boil up the mixture for a couple of hours… Then you add a bit of iron, which creates the reaction.”

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Exquisite silk scarves hand made at Yuriy Pak's studio
The dyer adds the natural ingredients to create the desired shade, then leaves the material out drying in the sun for hours.
“This is indigo,” said Pak, pointing to a navy scarf drying on a washing line. “And this is walnut,” he added, indicating a gold one shimmering next to it.

Pak picked up a brush and slapped some dye onto a carved stamp made of walnut, called a qolib.
“Then we stamp the pattern onto the cloth,” he concluded, bringing the qolib down with a flourish and leaving a flowery design imprinted on the silk.

“In the old days, a craftsman would ideally have had about a hundred qolib, but I’ve got about forty,” Pak said.
Many of the designs are symbolic, such as the pomegranate representing fertility or the circular symbol representing home and hearth. The distinctive thorn shape is habitually used on linings for the chopon, a traditional long robe or coat.

Sourcing the stamps is difficult, so Pak has purchased an industrial machine that can produce qolib in his workshop to expand his repertoire.
“We don’t like to repeat the patterns,” he explained. “The more different designs you have, the more different compositions you can do.”

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Yuriy Pak
In the old days, block printing was “considered an art form affordable for the lower classes,” Pak said. They would buy block-printed textiles on cheap cloth to decorate their homes because they could not afford the exquisite hand-embroidered suzani textiles favored by the rich as decor.

These days, though, chitgarlik is in fashion. Working with Pak, Uzbekistani designer Saida Amir has produced a stylish collection of block-printed outfits featuring flowing dresses and elegant silk jackets.

The fresh twist put on this ancient form of design by the fashion industry suggests reports of the demise of block printing in Uzbekistan are definitely premature.

Contact Yuri Pak at:


Related posts:
Woodblock Printed Cloth of Uzbekistan
Fashion's Obession with Central Asian Design
Source: This article, written by Joanna Lillis, was originally published by, on 5 January 2016. It is reposted with permission.

On Uzbek Journeys tours we visit Mr Pak's studio to watch the woodblock process.

Cotton, wood blocked scarves drying in the sunshine at Yuriy Pak's workshop

A riot of coloured, cotton scarves at Yuriy Pak's workshop

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Seismic Modernism - Architecture and Housing in Soviet Tashkent

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Tashkent post-earthquake 1966
Tashkent, the southernmost metropolis of millions in the Soviet Union, is a city redolent with architectural contrasts and paradoxes.

Never was this contrast brought into sharper focus than during the severe earthquake of 1966, which left the New City relatively unscathed but reduced the oriental Old City to ash and rubble.

Tashkent was already a city of contrasts: narrow winding alleyways, mosques, madrassahs and buildings made of clay in the established Old City, stood in contrast to an orderly New City featuring wide boulevards.

Yet one respite was offered: a rebuilding effort that triggered an upsurge of architectural innovation. The city thus became the face of seismic modernism – unprecedented in history, the earthquake stimulated the modernisation of urban development in Tashkent.

In this excellent, new publication, Seismic Modernism, architect Philipp Meuser describes the reconstruction efforts that triggered an astonishing wave of innovation and forced the modernisation of the city.

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Apartment facade with Turkmen pattern. Image: Philipp Meuser
Although the industrialisation of Tashkent and thus the immigration of workers was already in full swing, this urban trend was intensified. Urban planners could now implement on a large scale their remodelling plans for the roughly 300,000 homeless people.

Twenty different design institutes and building collectives from across the USSR contributed to the reconstruction effort. The architects integrated regional construction traditions into their modern socialist designs - an unprecedented phenomenon which is illustrated most clearly on the facade mosaics by the Zharsky brothers.

According to Meuser "The rebuilding of Tashkent provides a perfect example of Soviet ideas about urban planning – in which technical standardisation and social requirements were no more of a contradiction than the design of experimental living concepts and the simultaneous search for an expression of national identity in building. Tashkent thus represents a unique example of radical urban redevelopment in a Soviet megacity with standard designs".

Meuser advocates an appraisal and reassessment of prefabricated construction. Today, fifty years after the earthquake, he regards Tashkent as the home of the most beautiful prefabricated buildings in the world.

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Aparrment block built by Ukranian workers from Kiev
Readers familiar with Tashkent and interested in Soviet Central Asian architecture will enjoy this book immensely. The book's style is clear and accessible. There are over 300 images, including rare, original facade designs by the Zharksy brothers, unrealised project plans plus before and after photographs of Tashkent districts.

Order your copy directly from DOM publishers.

Related posts:
Uzbekistan's Decorative Architectural Panels 
Tashkent's Soviet Buildings
Bishkek's Mosaics: Fragmented Dream Project
Ernst Neizvestny's Last Soviet Sculpture 

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Pre-fabricated mosaic panels ready for placement. Image: Philipp Meuser
tashkent soviet architecture, tashkent modernist design, uzbekistan small group tours
Tashkent nine-storey apartment building today. Image: Philipp Meuser