Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Birth of Suzani - Madina Kasimbaeva's Exhibition, Tashkent

Tashkent's best autumn exhibition - The Birth of Suzani - was held at the House of Photography late October.

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Madina Khasambaeva's huge suzani - 6 x 4 metres: it took 2 years to complete.

It was the final part of art historian Binafsha Nodir's exhibition projects dedicated to the revival and preservation of the traditions of the Tashkent school of embroidery.  

It featured the work of Madina Kasimbaeva, the sole needlewoman to successfully revive the unique tradition of the Tashkent school.

The exhibition, which detailed the creation of modern Tashkent palyak suzani from initial design sketch to the finished embroidered piece, immersed the viewer in the creative atmosphere accompanying the birth of this new incarnation of a tradition once lost.

The highlight was Kasambaeva's immense 6 x 4 metre suzani, superbly displayed in the "Secret Room", which took two years to complete.

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Madina Kasimbaeva and Binafsha Nodir

A stunning catalogue was also produced by sponsor, the Islam Karimov Foundation. It features essays and magnificent images from Kasimbaeva's 2016 exhibition Sacrament of Magic Yarn and the 2015 exhibition The Light of Faraway Stars.

As Nodir notes in her essay "As well as creating replicas of antique pieces, Kasimbaeava periodically gives herself over to pure inspiration, when new designs and compositions pour out of her, with each new pattern in perfect harmony with the basic structure of the classic traditional designs. The rich, inner world of this craftswoman, her inexhaustible imagination and unerring taste, as well as her excellent knowledge of national culture, find expression in her striking embroidery".

Kasimbaeva teaches embroidery techniques and shares her experience with her many students, who will one day become virtuoso needlewomen in their own right".
  
On an Uzbek Journeys tour we visit Madina's little store in Tashkent's old city. She is also a regular exhibitor at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, scheduled for mid-July 2019. You can contact her via her Facebook page.

Below are some gorgeous images from the catalogue and exhibition.

Related posts: Sacrament of Magic Yarn
Uzbek Suzanis: Like Flowers in the Sand
Symbols in Stitches: Uzbek Suzanis
Valentino Haute Couture Meets Suzani

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Detail of Madina Kasimbaeva's suzani

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Installation at the Birth of Suzani exhibition - conceived and installed by artist Bobur Ismoilov

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suzani uzbekistan embroidery, uzbekistan handwork embroidery suzani, uzbekistan art craft texture tours

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Catalogue cover of The Birth of Suzani -  layout and design by Inna Sandler

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Georgian painter Levan Lagidze's London exhbition: Bach Exercises

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Levan Lagidze's Autumn Gardens
If you are in London before 8 December, this is an unmissable exhibition.

Described as a ‘living legend’ by Dante magazine, Levan Lagidze is one of Georgia’s most prominent artists. His work is collected by national museums across the former USSR (including the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the National Gallery in Tbilisi) and in the US and Europe.

This autumn The Georgian Museum of Fine Arts in Tbilisi opened a new building with a hall dedicated to the artist’s work.

Lagidze is known for his highly structured and layered abstract paintings, philosophical approach to art and his unwavering support for Georgian art and artists.

He is sought-after in the international art world, where his paintings have recently fetched high sums at auction in New York, but is notoriously reclusive and shy of wide exposure, preferring to exhibit exclusively in his own gallery in Tbilisi.

London's Katrine Levin Galleries Pall Mall is hosting Bach Exercises, the first major exhibition that the artist has agreed to outside Georgia for 20 years. It will run until  8 December 2018.

"The exhibition title reflects the 'cadence' of the paintings, where the myriad of tiny universes built up along a grid intermingle in a symphony of rich chromatic notes. Through this rhythm Lagidze seeks to know the universe through colour as Bach did through sound" said Katrine Levin, curator.

Levan Lagidze’s works are accessible and self-explanatory. Layers of colour and structure entice the viewer to look deeper into the paintings where they discover connections to universal narratives such as landscape and urbanisation.

Colour is at the heart of his work: "It is said that painting is the art of showing colour – but to me it is the art of hiding colour. Colour needs to be hidden in order to entice the viewer into searching deeper", commented the artist.

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Levan Lagidze's Village in the Mountains
Born in 1958 in Tbilisi, Georgia, Lagidze graduated from Tbilisi State Academy of Arts in 1981. He founded and led the Artists’ Studio in the Tbilisi Artists’ House in 1983 and served as Chairman of Georgia´s Young Artists' Union from 1986 to 1989.

Lagidze continued his support of young Georgian artists during the turbulent and violent decade following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2011 he founded the Lagidze Gallery that showcases his works and hosts exhibitions, presentations and talks in Georgia's capital.

There you will often find a mix of writers, composers, diplomats, and corporate leaders who have dropped in for an exchange of jokes or a philosophical discussion.

Bach Exercises presents 25 recent paintings created specifically for the London exhibition and is open to the public until 8 December at La Galleria Pall Mall, Pall Mall, London.

Listen to a 3-minute conversation below with the artist, with English subtitles. [If your device does not display the clip, go directly to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5kHLyIqVxA].

Related posts:
Central Asia in Art: From Soviet Orientalism to the New Republics  
Sotheby's London Exhibition: Contemporary Art from Central Asia & the Caucasus
Alexander Volkov: Of Sand and Silk, an Exhibition at Christie's, London

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Farmers in Kyrgyzstan try to capitalize on global quinoa fad

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Quinoa farmer, Azamat Kaseyev.
This article, written by Leila Saralayeva  was published by Eurasianet 14 November and is posted with permission.

Step into a grocery store anywhere in Kyrgyzstan and ask for quinoa, chances are you will receive little more than blank stares. All the same, one farmer on the southern shores of Issyk-Kul lake has for the past few years been trying his hand at cultivating this most trendy of grains.

Azamat Kaseyev, 44, got his first batch of quinoa seeds – the South American strains of Regalona and Titicaca – in 2012. The results have been impressive. "The yield of this crop is quite high – if you sow 2.5 kilograms [of seeds] across one hectare [10,000 square meters], it yields one to three tons of quinoa,” Kaseyev told Eurasianet.

With the crop selling at anywhere between $2 and $16 per kilogram on international commodity exchanges, the returns have been robust, he said.

That, however, is where the problems begin. Getting Kyrgyz-grown quinoa onto the international market is proving tough and farmers complain the authorities are doing nothing to help.

Kaseyev’s efforts at the moment are on adapting the grain to local conditions and testing the crop in all of Kyrgyzstan’s regions. Quinoa has flourished most in the highlands and under certain temperature conditions. The plant likes heat in the daytime and cold at night. The Tong district of the Issyk-Kul region, the Bakai-Ata district of Talas region and the foothills of Jalal-Abad region have been found to be the best locations.

Introduction of quinoa to Kyrgyzstan has been spearheaded by the Dubai-based International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, or ICBA, which co-organized an event in 2016 to explore new regions in which to grow the crop. Central Asia has proven particularly receptive. Neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan too are now dipping their toes into quinoa cultivation.

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Central Asian farmers are tapping into a global craze. If only eight countries were cultivating quinoa in 1980, that figure had risen to 75 by 2014.

Twenty additional countries began sowing quinoa in 2015 alone. For all that, around four-fifths of global output is still accounted for by the plant’s native lands, Bolivia and Peru.

Enthusiasm in Kyrgyzstan is being tempered by a host of difficulties, however. As Kaseyev explained, Kyrgyz farmers have no mechanical equipment for sowing, weeding, harvesting, threshing or processing the crop.

UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) expert Omurbek Mambetov points out that technical limitations are inevitably hampering potential for domestic sales and export. "The domestic market is not developed because quinoa contains a substance called saponin, which gives the crop a bitter taste. It is contained in the shell of the grain," Mambetov said. "In order to get [the crop] onto the export market, it is necessary to learn how to separate out the saponin. But there is no equipment [for doing this] in Kyrgyzstan as yet".

In these early years, there are also bound to be stops and starts.  Alisher Uraimov, a farmer from Jalal-Abad region who began growing quinoa around the same time as Kaseyev, suffered a dismal harvest this year. He sowed 32 hectares, but only five hectares gave any yield.

“We had a good harvest in previous years, so I increased my sowing area. But unfortunately, agriculture in Kyrgyzstan is a risky business. Because of the hot summer, this was not a very good harvest,” Uraimov said. Uraimov said he is now in talks to sell around six tons of quinoa to Italian and German partners to whom he previously sold dry fruits.

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Azamat Kaseyev with other quinoa farmers
Doing that will mean overcoming considerable bureaucratic hurdles though. Even if the local government were in a position to issue certificates of origin and quality for Uraimov’s quinoa, these would likely prove insufficient for the European market. Instead, Uraimov will have to summon a sanitary expert from Europe or Turkey, which could cost anywhere from $3,300.

"For one farmer, that is of course an insurmountable amount, but if all us farmers chip in, we could do it," he said. Industry experts say the government has provided no help in either developing the crop or assisting in export.

We have just introduced scientists and teachers from the Agrarian University and employees at the Agriculture Ministry to this culture, but there has been little interest so far,” said Mambetov, of the FAO.

Kyrgyzstan’s unsettled political scene is blamed for this lassitude. “The annual change of prime minister, and with him the minister of agriculture, leads to very low efficiency levels. We have not had one minister of agriculture who has been in place for more than 12 months. I don’t even try to remember their names,” said Aziza Yuldasheva, head of the Zher Azygy agriculture industry lobby group.

Roman Kovalenko, manager of the Ecoland health food store in Bishkek, complained it is farmers that are pricing themselves out of sales. "They charge quite a lot as they know they do not have competition on the domestic market. And it is a major disadvantage that they have not learned to grind and process the grains, which are bitter as a result," he said.

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Tajik farmers are also trying to cultivate quinoa
 This is all a pity, as there is great potential, he said. "I myself regularly eat porridge made with quinoa, because every 100 grams contains around 14 grams of protein. It is consumed by people on diets to lose weight and people who are on gluten-free diets,” Kovalenko said. “Kyrgyz farmers need to learn processing technologies and the demand will be huge, even on the domestic market".

Related posts: 
Sumalak, Kyrgyzstan's Nowruz Treat for the Pure of Heart
Tea with Bread and Jam – a Traveller’s Appreciation of the Finer Things in Kyrgyz Life
Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and The Caucasus