Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Yulia Drobova’s "End of Winter" Exhibiiton, Tashkent: Until 31 May

yulia drobova illustrator tashkent, yulia drobova graphic designer
Poster for Yulia Drobova's current Tashkent exhibition ©
If you are in Tashkent this spring, do visit the Ulughbek Holmuradov Design Studio to catch illustrator and graphic designer Yulia Drobova’s charming new exhibition. It runs until 31 May.

In her signature style, Yulia explores nature, cityscapes, food and Central Asian motifs.

Yulia shares the same qualities as her great-grandfather, photographer Max Penson, and her grandmother, the photo journalist Dina Penson Khodzhaev: modesty and immense creative talent.

Until she was a teenager, Yulia was quite unaware of her family’s illustrious heritage. What she does remember growing up is that at the frequent family gatherings in Tashkent, Dina and Dina’s brothers Miron and Zakhar (also photographers), always brought their cameras. Yulia and her sister Alexandra’s childhood is amply documented by these three children of Max Penson.

She also recalls that Dina would give them paper and crayons and encourage them to "draw whatever you like"; the girls would give titles to their drawings, date them and Dina made an album of the collection, which she still has.

After five years at the Tashkent Architectural State Institute, Yulia graduated with a Masters Degree in Advertising and Applied Graphic Art. She acknowledges the influence of one of her professors, the sculptor Marina Borodina (now the Chair of the Design School), who encouraged her students to look around, to observe reality and then overlay their own personal elements on this reality.

yulia drobova illustrator tashkent, yulia drobova graphic designer
Yulia Drobova
Another major influence is the artist Elena Kambina, who had invited some students to join an exhibition in 2006 The City and Its Citizens, held at the National Bank of Uzbekistan.

This was Yulia’s first experience of creating installations: from this opportunity she realised that she could create unique and different art pieces, that she could freely invent her universe.

Her first projects were with a small Tashkent publishing house illustrating children’s textbooks. Since then she has forged her own career both locally and internationally.

Encouraged by the French cultural attaché in Tashkent, Eric Aubert, she was awarded a three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris in 2011. Yulia found her time in Paris very exciting: roaming the city, visiting galleries and exhibitions, mixing with other artists and seeing the world from different views.

Importantly, Yulia bought a camera to record this Paris stint. Her eye for detail and whimsy captured daily experiences in this new world, from patisseries in her neighbourhood to objects she found on the footpaths. These photographs formed the basis for her solo exhibition, Les Paysages Inconnus, in Tashkent in 2011.

yulia drobova illustrator tashkent, yulia drobova graphic designer
Poster for Ilkhom Thetare, Tashkent ©
Supported by the French Institute in Tashkent, the exhibition took place in two venues: a dozen of her photographs were installed on the walls of the French Embassy and at the Institute a large installation, Fraternité, covered the grounds.

Small mirrors, affixed to the installation’s objects, drew visitors into the experience. Using other photographs as a starting point, Yulia created imaginative graphic works which were displayed inside the Institute and which captured her impressions and personal discoveries in Paris.

Through this exhibition the costume designer of the world-renowned Ilkhom theatre, the Soviet Union's first experimental, independent theatre, noticed Yulia's work.

Since November 2011 she has designed the posters for the company - either as an independent designer or in collaboration with Ilkhom's stage designer Vassily Yuriev. Yulia finds this collaboration stimulating and rewarding. Ilkhom also held an exhibition of her pastel works in 2014.

She freelances for UNESCO, Uzbekistan, and produces the flyers and posters for their in-country activities.  In 2014 Médecins Sans Frontières engaged Yulia to produce illustrations for a special book for people suffering from tuberculosis.

Like all illustrators, the internet has transformed opportunities. She regularly updates her online portfolio and engages in online forums with other illustrators.

In 2010 Yulia was engaged by the Mitre Agency, based in the US, to help create elements of the visual identity for the Positive Action for Children Fund at the 2010 International AIDS conference in Vienna, Austria.  In 2011 she was one of the six winners of the They Draw and Travel map competition, creating a charming Uzbek map of her family’s dacha.

yulia drobova illustrator tashkent, yulia drobova graphic designer
Yulia Drobova's Bird stencil, from the Tashkent 2015 exhibition ©
Her vivid, decorative designs have been used on textiles and clothing. Clients in Russia, Europe and elsewhere have commissioned a variety of projects.

Yulia describes how she spends a lot of time tossing project ideas around in her head, imagining possibilities, crafting small elements “like beads” and building them into a composition. It is then that she starts sketching, when the whole is clear.

You won’t find Yulia hanging out with the contemporary art scene in Tashkent. Her pleasures include photography, gardening, cooking and spending time with architect husband, Dima. She likes the pace of the Tashkent lifestyle, the abundance and variety of food, the green of the city.

Below is a small selection of Yulia's work. You can view more at her website.

The Holmuradov Design Studio is at 59 Babur Street, Tashkent, not far from Babur Park and just a 3-minute walk from the hotel where Uzbek Journeys clients usually stay. It is open daily, except Sunday, from 10:00 – 17:00. Tel: +998 90 977 8878. And while you are there, take a look at Ulughbek’s stunning, contemporary jewellery collection.

Related posts:  Yulia Drobova - Uzbek Illustrator and Designer
Max Penson: Uzbek Photography between Revolution and Tradition


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Yulia Drobova's award-winning drawing for They Draw and Travel competition 2011 - My Family's Dacha ©


yulia drobova illustrator tashkent, yulia drobova graphic designer
Yulia Drobova's illustrations applied to products at the 2010 International AIDS conference in Vienna  ©

yulia drobova illustrator tashkent, yulia drobova graphic designer
Yulia Drobova's work for Panera Bread  ©
yulia drobova illustrator tashkent, yulia drobova graphic designer
Yulia Drobova's New Year greeting card for Lemur Studios  ©


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nowruz Spring Festival – Part #2

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Lilya Kas'yanova
Lilya Kas'yanova, one of Kyrgyzstan's finest guides, is passionate about the history, art and craft of her country. A graduate in Linguistics and Intercultural Communications from I. Arabaev Kyrgyz State University, she is also a keen photographer and hiker. 

Last week, Lilya, who regularly leads Uzbek Journeys tours in Kyrgyzstan, provided an overview of the ancient Nowruz festival, still celebrated today on 21 March, the spring equinox. In this post, she describes the Nowruz festive table and the culinary subtleties of the Kyrgyz and Kazakh peoples.


The Haft Sin table

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Sprouted wheat, centrepiece of the festive table, image: Lilya Kas'yanova
A discussion of Nowruz specialities would not be complete without first mentioning the Haft Sin table.

Following the Persian tradition, some Central Asians, especially Tajiks, follow the Haft Sin festive table tradition.  The Haft Sin table includes seven items all starting with the letter sīn (س) in the Persian alphabet.

These items are usually: sib (apple), samanu (sprouted wheat) or sabzi (greens or sprouted cereals), sir (garlic), sirké (vinegar), sandjit – wild olive, sumah (spice) and sekké (coin). This is not a strict set of foods, - it may vary.  But all items must begin with the letter S. Each item has its own specific meaning, for instance: vinegar is a symbol of patience, garlic – robust health, wild olive – love, apple – beauty, coin – prosperity, etc.

Kyrgyz and Kazakh Nowruz specialities

The Kyrgyz and Kazakh cuisines have much in common: meat and flour dishes, and milk-based drinks. This stems from the fact that the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs were nomads for centuries.

The main dishes of the Nowruz festive table in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan  are:

Beshbarmak which means "five fingers". Nomads did not use cutlery – they ate with their fingers. The essential ingredients of beshbarmak are noodles, meat (either mutton, beef, horse or camel meat – the latter cooked by Kazakhs) and concentrated broth. The broth is served separately, in small bowls.
Shorpo  – mutton soup with broadtail fat, potato and carrot.
Uzgen red rice plov (devzira is a variety of rice from the southern district of Kyrgyzstan)

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Horse meat sausage, image: Lilya Kas'yanova
Festival dishes are also represented by Turkic boiled delicacies such as:

Chuchuk (shujyk) - horse meat sausage with fat, karta – large bowel (of horse) pulled inside out, and karyn (horse stomach);
Hoshan – deep-fried patty with mince, onion filling and spices;
Samsa – baked patty with meat and onion stuffing, traditionally baked in tandyr (clay oven). Broth is a usual accompaniment;
Kattama  - a type of flaky dough flatbread baked in a frying pan on a slow fire. Kattama can be plain, or chives- or onion-filled);
Jypka -a type of flaky dough cornmeal cake served with butter;

Also, the Nowruz table abounds in a variety of pastry and drinks. Festival pastries are symbols of a sweet and happy New Year. These are some special national drinks and treats:

Sanza - fine twiglets of deeply fried dough. These pastry straws can be sugar powdered, honey or sugar liquor coated;
Choimo tokoch - a type of pastry twiglet;
Boorsok  – small pieces of unfermented or sour dough fried in boiling oil. Sary mai (butterfat), kaimak (home-made sour cream), honey or jams accompany boorsoks;
Jarma - a nutritive beverage based on water, talkan (wheat or millet grits), wheat flour, starter culture, yeast, butter (or fat) and salt;
Chalap - a sour-milk drink, the ingredients of which are mineral water, suzmé (low-moisture fermented dairy product; something between sour cream and cottage cheese) and salt;
Atkan tea -  a distinctive type of tea that is widespread in the Issyk-Kul’ province of Kyrgyzstan. It is a strong black tea with milk and salt. Butter can be added also.

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Uigur pastry straws and donuts, image: Lilya Kas'yanova
A few weeks before the holiday, initial preparations are made for one of the crowning pieces of a plentiful table - wheat is sprouted on plates. By 21 March, dazzling green sprouts reach 6-7 centimeters. A plate with sprouted wheat is not only the centrepiece of the festive table, but also a symbol of new life, fertility and good health.

However, the pièce de résistance of the spring festival in all of Central Asia is sümölök (samanu, sumalak, sumanak) – sprouted wheat pudding. This ritual dainty is cooked only once a year, at Nowruz.

Sümölök’s basic ingredient is wheat which is sprouted a few days before the celebration. The process of making this specialty is time-consuming:  it takes the whole night before Nowruz – 12 -14 hours – during which time the pot must be stirred continuously.

It requires much effort and attention. Only women can participate in the process. Sümölök is cooked in a large hemispherical cauldron, in the bottom of which 7 pebbles (or walnuts) of equal dimension  are placed thus making it non-stick. The sprouts of wheat are minced and then malt is sifted and poured into the cauldron with cotton-seed oil. Wheat flour is also added.

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Sümölök for sale, image Lilya Kas'yanova
Women alternate in stirring the mixture and, while cooking, they invoke God's blessing. Quite often sümölök making is accompanied by chanting. When brewing is finished, the cauldron is covered and the sümölök is left to draw for a couple of hours.

The result is a viscous dark brown substance, which tastes like halva. Then it is ladled out and distributed to those who participated in the cooking process and to relatives and friends. Those who get a pebble (or walnut) in a bowl with sümölök are deemed to be lucky, and they can make a wish that will certainly come true.

At Nowruz, a must for Kazakhs is a dish known as nauryz köjé. It consists of seven ingredients: water, meat, oil, flour, cereals (rice, wheat, corn), milk and salt. Every cookery specialist has her own signature  recipe of nauryz köjé. Nevertheless, this one-of-a-kind soup must be flavoured with a fermented dairy product!

Of course there are more festive and traditional nomadic dishes than those described above. Every family adopts a distinctive menu. However, such specialties as sümölök (source of spiritual and physical strengths) and nauryz köjé are always included.

At each and every Nowruz celebration we hope that the incoming year will be joyous, bounteous and fortunate for all of us!

Contact Lilya on: lolya.87(at) mail (dot) ru     
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Sugar powdered pastry roses, image Lilya Kas'yanova

Read all Lilya's articles

Related posts:  Nowruz Spring Festival  –  Part #1
Celebrating Nowruz - Spring New Year in Uzbekistan
100 Experiences of Kyrgyzstan 


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Nowruz Spring Festival – Part #1

Lilya Kas'yanova kyrgyzstan tour guide, kyrgyz art craft tours
Lilya Kas'yanova
Lilya Kas'yanova, one of Kyrgyzstan's finest guides, is passionate about the history, art and craft of her country. A graduate in Linguistics and Intercultural Communications from I. Arabaev Kyrgyz State University, she is also a keen photographer and hiker. In this article Lilya, who regularly leads Uzbek Journeys tours in Kyrgyzstan, provides an overview of the ancient Nowruz festival, still celebrated today.

Part 2, to be published next week, will
describe the Nowruz festive table and the culinary subtleties of the Kyrgyz and Kazakh peoples.

Overview of Nowruz 


One of the world’s most remarkable festivals – Nowruz (Spring New Year) – was added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009. It is celebrated in Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Middle East and other countries. In some countries, Nowruz is officially listed on the public holiday calendar. And, in the Republic of Kazakhstan, it is fêted for consecutive three days.

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Folk music groups,  Nowruz festival Bishkek. image: Lilya Kas'yanova
Nowruz originated in Persia more than 3,000 years ago. It is directly related to the veneration of fire and the sun, as well as to Zoroaster (Zarathustra), the Iranian religious reformer and founder of Zoroastrianism (fire worship).

"Nowruz' in Farsi means "new day" and 21 March - the spring equinox - is the first day of the New Year of the Persian calendar. It is a festival of spring, nature’s great awakening: renewal and purification, fertility, the demonstration of the love of nature, the triumph of love and the friendship of peoples.

The colourful traditions of the Nowruz celebration took root not only in Persian-speaking regions, but also gained ground among those Turkic-speaking nations influenced by the culture of Zoroastrianism. The spring New Year lived through the Arabian conquest:  Islam had never banned the ideas of goodness, mercy and beneficence, and it remained an integral part of the cultures of different Muslim peoples.

When Tsarist Russia annexed Central Asia, this new authority did not interfere with local traditional practices, customs and beliefs. However, after the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917, the situation regarding traditional rituals, including festivals and feasts, changed dramatically. In the Soviet period, Nowruz lost its status as an official holiday in 1926 for no other reason than the exponents of the party’s ideology decided it had a religious nature.

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Children of the Tatar-Bashkir diaspora at Nowruz, Bishkek image: Lilya Kas'yanova
Nevertheless, the peoples of Central Asia cherished the memory of the celebration and waited, observing it in secrecy. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the festivities, which mark the official incoming of spring and the beginning of agricultural cycle, started once more.

Kaleidoscopic Nowruz traditions of Central Asia


The week before Nowruz is considered a time of ancestral remembrance: it is dedicated to them. People bring offerings to the spirits of dead persons and ask for their assistance and protection in the coming year.

A few days prior to Nowruz, active preparations for the upcoming celebration are launched: thoroughly cleaning the house, clearing out old and useless things, making or buying holiday clothing and so on.  Before 21 March, debts should be repaid, misfortunes forgotten and offences forgiven.

On the eve of Nowruz, a purification ceremony is performed to frighten away evil spirits. In Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, there is the practice of fumigating homes using juniper twigs. In Tajikistan, the peganum harmel plant (Syrian or wild rue) is used for the same purpose.

Nowruz is the longest holiday in the East: according to tradition, it lasts thirteen days and the last day should be spent outdoors.  People enjoy holding parties in the countryside to reunite with nature. Throughout Nowruz, people visit their relatives and friends, exchange greetings, provide alms to the poor, and cook a great variety of specialties.

The festive table has to be overladen with rich food to ensure the coming year will be abundant and fertile and bring joy and luck. The observance of the different rites that accompany the Nowruz celebration, makes for family happiness and well being.
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Folk dance ensemble, Nowruz festival Bishkek, image: Lilya Kas'yanova

In Zoroastrianism, the festival focused on the main object of worship, i.e. fire, which had the power of purification, and was deemed to be the symbol of the sun on earth.

Historically, one more symbolic purification ceremony, related to fire, fell during Nowruz. At sundown, people jumped over big bonfires: jumping over fire was believed to banish corrupt desires and demonic temptations.

Even women with babes in arms jumped over bonfires: they genuinely believed that it could guard from evil spirits and protect from bad luck. As far as Central Asia is concerned, this rite is still observed in some remote, rural areas.

Among the Kyrgyz, Nowruz was known as "Ulustun uluu künü" ("Great Day of the Nation" or "Great Day of the Khanate"). This day was often marked by an important event, such as the election of a new chieftain.

There is a wonderful custom in Tajikistan known as gülgardoni. With the advent of Nowruz, children pick the first spring flowers – snowdrops and crocuses, and distribute them to neighbours, thus acting as heralds bringing the glad tidings of the incoming spring.

Nowruz celebrations also include entertainment, national sports and equestrian games, such as horse races (at chabysh); buzkashi (also known as ulak tartysh, or kuk pari); oodarysh (wrestling on horseback); tyiin enmei (picking up coins from the ground while galloping); archery and wrestling etc.

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Kyrgyz merry-making. Central Ala-Too Square, Bishkek, image: Lilya Kas'yanova
Nowadays, the major festivities such as dance and singing performances, aitysh (improvised contests of poets and singers) take place in the squares of principal cities of the Central Asian republics. In Kyrgyzstan, the Central Ala-Too square of Bishkek is the heart of the spring festival.

The second part of this article will focus on the Nowruz festive table.

Contact Lilya on: lolya.87(at) mail (dot) ru
Read all Lilya's articles
Related posts: Nowruz Spring Festival –  #2
Celebrating Nowruz - Spring New Year in Uzbekistan
100 Experiences of Kyrgyzstan