Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Blue Tablecloths of Georgia: New Life of an Old Tradition

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A new tablecloth using traditional techniques and symbols from the Lurji Supra Lab
Uzbek Journeys recently explored the art and craft of Georgia. The blue and white tablecloths known as lurji supra, were the standout items of this beautiful country. Lurji Supra was granted UNESCO material monument status in 2017.

At the end of this article is my recommendation where to buy Lurji Supra in Tbilisi.

In the past, textile production held a special place in Georgia’s arts and culture. The oldest samples of cotton tablecloths, painted in various hues of blue, date back to around the end of the seventeenth century.

In the eighteenth century, artisans began creating printed textiles, using woodblocks with decorative engravings. The method of "cold vat dyeing", which originated in the East, spread widely in Georgia in those times.

These textiles were colored blue using indigo paint, obtained as a result of processing of the indigo plant. The specific character of the patterns and, most importantly, the color, made Georgian textiles different from their Russian and European counterparts. These products are known as lurji supra, the "blue tablecloths".

In order to preserve a pattern and prepare the textiles for cold dyeing, artisans of this technique mix wax with fat and apply it to the cloth using a woodblock. The pattern depends on the craftsmen, who create compositions based on specific themes, at their sole discretion. The elements of such patterns include the rosettes and medallions, commonly arranged in the center, plus floral and geometric ornaments decorating the borders.

Georgian artists enriched the compositions with the figures of women and men in national costumes, flora, fauna, household items, and more. Although the blue tablecloths are used in daily life, images of musicians, dancers, warriors, and crosses reflect their ceremonial application, such as ornaments for wedding feasts, religious holidays, and royal hunting feasts.

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Detail from mid-19th century tablecloth - lurji supra
Factory manufacturing of printed textiles began in Georgia at the end of the nineteenth century, gradually driving out traditional hand-painting methods.

In silkscreen printing, various patterns modeled after the blue tablecloth designs could be “burned” onto special fabric tightly stretched over a frame. Paint is applied through the screen, coloring only the negative space of the design onto the textile—a process far more efficient than woodblock printing.

In extract (discharge) printing, a blue textile is treated with a special chemical mixture. When Rongalite (sulphoxylat formaldehyde) is applied through a prepared silkscreen, the pattern turns white under its effect.

Since this technique requires a special storage area, it is used only in factories. The blue tablecloths produced by Georgian factories in the twentieth century become an aesthetic symbol of the country. As the screen-printing technique improved, production grew and met increasing market demand from both tourists and locals.

But at the end of twentieth century plants and factories in the cities of Georgia closed as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and great political changes. Production of blue tablecloths stopped. For years artisans discussed how to restore the art form.

In 2010, despite the fact that the country could still not reopen plants and factories, the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts launched a research laboratory named Lurji Supra to study the now century-old blue tablecloths. Founders Tinatin Kldiashvili and Ketevan Kavtaradze, design professors at the academy, focused on restoring the original, long-forgotten textile technology of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

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Old woodblocks from the collection of the Georgian State Museum of
Folk and Applied Arts
Their research and trials lasted for over a year. They borrowed patterns from wall paintings, ancient manuscripts, and figurines from the Bronze Age.

They experimented with screen-printing on other articles, such as napkins, aprons, bag, and head scarves. In 2011, they presented their work to great public interest, and soon began selling textiles from the laboratory and art galleries.

Since then, the students have represented Georgia and shared their work at the Strasbourg Christmas Market, the Artigiano in Fiera international craft fair in Milan, and the Art Schools of the World – Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Art exhibition in Florence.

The laboratory has been so successful that textile printing using various methods and technologies has since regained popularity in Georgia and abroad.

Today the Lurji Supra lab contributes to the reconstruction, preservation, and development of this traditional field, this piece of intangible cultural heritage. Students are able to use old motifs and create their own design, which the founders believe is very important for sustaining living traditions. Their active involvement in the process now makes it possible to pass the knowledge from generation to generation.

Where to buy? Lurji Supra are available to buy in most design boutiques in Tbilisi. However, the best place to pick up one of these special pieces and directly support the Lurji Supra Lab is at 19 Shardeni St, in the old city.

This is run by Tinatin Kldiashvili and Ketevan Kavtaradze and sells not only the tablecloths, but also clothing and other pieces by artists from the Academy of Arts. Prices are about 30% less than tourist shops. Payment is in cash only. The shop is usually open in the afternoons.

Related posts: 
In Search of Lost Paradise - Woodblock Exhibition, Tashkent
A Passion for Woodblock Printing

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A new tablecloth using traditional techniques and symbols from the Lurji Supra Lab
Source: This article was written by Nana Meparishvili. It originally appeared in the Smithsonian Institute's Folklife magazine in August 2015. It is republished with permission.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Education Against the Odds: How a Student and Mother from Afghanistan’s Central Highlands Stole Social Media's Heart

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Image shared on Facebook by teacher Yahya Erfan,
widely shared and used by media outlets across the world.
The image was one that spoke of love and determination.

In mid-March, a student sheathed in a blue scarf took an exam on the floor of an outdoor classroom in provincial Afghanistan with a baby lying across her lap.

Yahya Erfan, a professor at the university where the exam was taking place, took a photo of the scene and posted it to his Facebook account.

It promptly went viral.

The 25-year-old woman in the photo, Jahantab Ahmadi, sat cross-legged, her face bent over her exam papers in concentration as her two-month child bawled due to an earache.

Jahantab, a mother-of-three, hails from the remote settlement of Hoshto, in the Miramar district of Afghanistan’s Daikundi province. To sit the exam in the provincial capital Nilli, Jahantab had to travel two hours on foot over coarse mountainous terrain and a further nine hours on public transport along a rough, bumpy road.

The photo became a source of inspiration for social media users in a country where timelines are too often full of the news of bloody attacks.

Despite coming from a conservative society, where many men oppose women’s education, Jahantab is fortunate enough to enjoy her family’s support and admiration.

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Jahantab Ahmadi with her husband Musa Mohammadi and their baby
Her husband, Musa Mohammadi, who comes from a poor family, has been a vital pillar of support.

Shortly after the photo appeared on social media, the pair had reason to celebrate — Jahantab passed the university entrance exam known as the kankor, scoring 152 points out of 360.

Jahantab’s story triggered offers of financial help both inside and outside the country. One UK-based organization, the Afghan Youth Association, recently launched an online GoFundMe campaign to help pay for her university fees.

The campaign has so far raised more than $14,000 – a fortune in a country where about 39 percent of the population lives in poverty. Thanks to the campaign and other funding, Jahantab is now enrolled at a private university in Kabul where she majors in Economics.

Afghan social activist Zahara Yagana was a key mover in attracting aid to Jahantab's cause and has been posting updates on the young student's progress.

This inspiring story, written by Maisam Iltaf, was first published on Global Voices Online on 4 April 2018. It is republished with permisison.

Related posts:
Skateistan - Empowering Afghan Youth Through Skateboarding Duke Ellington's Kabul Gig 1963
Afghanistan Mourns Honorary ‘Grandmother’ Nancy Hatch Dupree
Kyrgyzstan: Yurt Preschools Reach Nomadic Children

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ikat Textile exhibitions

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Installation from To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia
If you live in North America and are serious about textiles, please consider visiting Washington D.C. before these remarkable exhibitions close in July.

At the Smithsonian's Sackler gallery until 29 July is To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia. It brings together about thirty of the finest historical Central Asian ikat hangings and coats from the Freer|Sackler collections, donated by Guido Goldman, as well as several of Oscar de la Renta’s iconic creations.

The aim is to explore the original use and function of these dazzling fabrics and the enduring appeal of their extraordinary designs.

Over at the George Washington University Textile Museum until 9 July is the exhibition Binding the Clouds: The Art of Central Asian Ikat. This exhibition also celebrates the the artistic innovation of 19th-century Uzbekistan.

It showcases 32 ikat hangings from the collection of 100 textiles donated to the Museum's collections again by Guido Goldman. A lifelong lover of the arts, Goldman became enchanted with Central Asian ikats through a chance sighting of a colorful ikat hanging in a New York gallery's window in 1975.

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Ikat fabric produced in Bukhara 1800 -1850
Sebastian Smee, a Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic for The Washington Post, recently reviewed the two exhibits. 

Smee himself is a strong advocate for ikat. “If I could see only one kind of art for the rest of my life, it’s easy. Textiles. Uzbekistani textiles. No question about it,” he writes.

Related posts:
Robert Rauschenberg: Samarkand Stitches 
Ikat: The "Thread That Connects Generations"
The Story of Uzbek Silk Production
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Uzbek Ikat DNA Project