Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ernst Cohn-Wiener Collection: Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

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Mir-i Arab Madrasa, Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Thanks to the resources of Archnet, we can now browse Ernst Cohn-Wiener's remarkable, photographic collection from expeditions to western Turkestan in 1924 and 1925.

Archnet is a globally-accessible resource about architecture, urbanism, environmental and landscape design, visual culture, and conservation issues related to the Muslim world. 

Born in Tilsit, Prussia, in 1882,  Ernst Cohn-Wiener worked as an art historian at the Juedische Volkshochschule and the Humboldt Academy in Berlin.

Initially a specialist in German gothic sculpture, his principal fields of interest became Islamic and Jewish art as well as the study of the Near and Far East.

Following the rise to power of the National Socialists in Germany, he emigrated to Great Britain in 1933 and in 1934 to India, where he was appointed as manager of the museums and art school in Baroda. There he modernised institutions like the Gallery of Baroda and established new departments for Islamic art and Indian miniatures at the University of Bombay. His wife, Lenni, an archaeologist, assisted him.

In 1939 he settled in the United States and taught at the American Institute for Iranian Art and Archaeology until his death in New York in 1941.

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Bibi Khanum: sanctuary dome and southern minaret viewed from the south
Cohn-Wiener's works on Jewish and Islamic art were seminal, but remained isolated for a long time.

The British Museum acquired the Ernst Cohn-Wiener Photographic Archive from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London in 1998, where it had been kept as part of the Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum.

The archive consists of 324 film negatives and 567 glass negatives. The photographs are essential for the study of architecture in the historic cities of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as some of the buildings photographed are no longer extant, while others have been over-restored.

Nearly seven hundred of these black and white photographs are available on Archnet. All the photographs are labelled - simply hover over an image for the location. Click on the title of the building and a more recent image of the buiding is available with an architectural description.

Related posts: Max Penson: Uzbek Photography between Revolution and Tradition
Khudaybergen Divanov - Father of Uzbek Photography
Kyrgyzstan's Quest for Historical Photographs
Paul Nadar's Images of Turkestan 1890

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Friday mosque with an attached tomb of a saint in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Back in the USSR: Soviet Roadside Architecture

Uzbek bus stop
It seems that it is not just Uzbek Journeys clients who are drawn to the the wonder of Soviet bus stops.

First came Christoper Herwig's best seller Soviet Bus Stops. Herwig covered more than 30,000 km by car, bike, bus and taxi in 14 former Soviet countries discovering and documenting these unexpected treasures of modern art.

Now Germany-based freelance photographer Peter Ortner regales us with marvellous images of bus stops from Samarkand to Yerevan.

As he writes "Bus stops were built for a mundane purpose and for a temporary use of time: the process of waiting...Buses were the most important means of transport, especially in rural areas. It was only a wide network of bus stops that made mobility possible.

These structures also took on other functions, depending on their location. They were meeting places, landmarks for drivers, shelter for shepherds, and a symbol for those returning home".

Out on those country roads of the former Soviet Union states lies a treasure trove of unexpected waiting zones - a wide-ranging panoply of socialist architecture.

Taken both in Central Asia and in Eastern Europe, in Azerbaijan, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and the Crimea peninsula, Ortner’s photographs illuminate the imaginative variations on this vernacular architecture as well as the more expected works of socialist modernism. 

Cover of Peter Orten's delightful book
His shots present an endless variety of forms and colors, an eclectic micro architecture whose neglect and weathering somehow adds to its charm.

In a regime often characterized by standardization and creative repression, anonymous architects and artists created original, expressive work in the form of bus stops, buildings for everyday purposes. 

With its roadside architecture  - sometimes brutalist, sometimes not - resembling waves, UFOs and octopuses, the Soviet Union, it now seems indisputable, was light years ahead of its neighbours in bus-stop design.

You can listen to an interview with Peter Ortner, published on the ABC's website in February 2017. And you can buy the bilingual book (German/English) from Jovis publishing.

Below are a few favourites.

Related posts: Kyrgyzstan's Bus Stops
Turkmenistan: Tracking Down Mosaics
Uzbekistan's Decorative Architectural Panels 
Bishkek's Mosaics: Fragmented Dream Project

This beauty is in Moldavia

In a remote part of Georgia

Faded mosaic beauty in Azerbaijan

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kyrgyzstan: Unusual Superstitions - Part #2

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Kyrgyz couple milking a mare
Kyrgyzstan, a country located where the old silk routes once ran through the heart of Eurasia, celebrates Christian, Muslim, Soviet and pagan holidays.

Its superstitions are equally numerous and diverse. This post concludes the look at Kyrgyz superstitions, started last week.

6.  Take care of your livestock, because they take care of you. 

This is less of a superstition and more of a practical necessity in a country where much of the population of six million people depends on animal husbandry as a way of life.

Nevertheless, beyond the oft-repeated common-sense mantra madli tebbe, bashka, sappa (don't kick the cattle, don't hit its head), there are plenty of negative omens — too numerous to cite here — that cling to sick horses and cows like unwanted fleas.

7.  Flush away your bad dreams

If a person has a nightmare or insomnia, Kyrgyz will sometimes put bread, wheat, or table knives under a pillow to keep bad dreams at bay. Elders even recommend telling your nightmare to flowing water; this will flush away the memories of the bad dream.

8.  Dog versus tooth fairy

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Little girl on the left has no doubt tossed her tooth to a dog!
When Kyrgyz children lose their baby teeth, they don’t wait for a tooth fairy to leave them pocket money in exchange for their fallen tooth.

Rather, they fill the fallen tooth with bread, approach a neighbourhood dog, and throw their tooth to the dog, shouting: “Take a bad tooth, and give me a good one!”

9.  Tea is best served one drop at a time 

Like many other cultures, people in Kyrgyzstan sometimes see bubbles in a bowl of tea as evidence of good luck or future prosperity. Where Central Asian tea-traditions differ is in the serving of tea.

On visiting a Kyrgyz home you might find you are constantly being served half a cup of tea. You are not being shorted. In fact, the host is showing you that he or she does not want you to leave.

When it is time for you to go, they will let you know by pouring you a full cup!

10.  A myriad of superstitions related to new brides

A daughter-in-law or kelin has the lowest rank in a Central Asian household, and as such is inundated with superstitions even before she begins married life.

Typically, when a new kelin arrives in her husband’s home for the first time, she is supposed to bow three times to the guests and her parents-in-law as a sign of respect and reverence.

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A new bride - kelin - arrives in her husband's home.
Image: Elita Bakirova and Erlan Bakirov
In northern parts of Kyrgyzstan, the rite is even stricter; a kelin should bow whenever she encounters her parents-in-law in order not to bring misfortune and sorrow into her new home.

Another superstition threatens that if the young woman takes even a covert disliking to one of her husband’s relatives or her mother-in-law, her next child will resemble that relative.

Yet another old wives' tale sees people avoid distributing the tongue of a sacrificial sheep to girls at feasts. The assumption is that eating a tongue might make a young girl a sharp-tongued kelin in her new family, rather than the subservient variety that is favoured.

Conversely, when a chicken is divided among family members, daughters get chicken wings, as an encouragement to fly the family nest!

Finally, by the time the kelin meets her husband's parents, she should have no excuses for leaving dishes unwashed until the following morning, as this will have been drummed into her by her mother from an early age.

Supposedly, it is forbidden to leave dishes unwashed until the next morning because dirty dishes will attract evil spirits. But is this a actually a superstition or just a creative way of encouraging girls to be neat and tidy? Who knows?

This article by Elita Bakirova and Erlan Bakirov originally appeared on Global Voices on 15 February 2017. It is re-published with permission.

Related posts: Kyrgyzstan: Unusual Superstitions - Part #1 
Kyrgyz Blues
100 Experiences of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan: Hunting with Birds of Prey